Using the word "great" to describe the Rick Parker Collective’s new release Finding Space is akin to using the word "beautiful" to describe a perfect rose - it’s understated, overused and yet 100% accurate. Trombonist Parker and he cohorts have proven, with this sophomore release, that their first album (2004’s New York Gravity) was not a fluke. Joined by saxophonist Xavier Perez, pianist Sam Barsh, bassist Gavin Fallow and drummer Kyle Struve (with guest appearances by Maurice Brown on trumpet and flugal horn and Jaleel Shaw on alto sax), Parker has created a fantastic recording that simultaneously succeeds on so many levels. The music is both muscularly dense and lithely supple - the playing is at times quietly restrained and at others joyfully explosive. In some respects, several of the songs have the feel of ‘big band’ arrangements, even though the band is a quintet. This is quite a difficult feat to accomplish, but a joy to listen to. The band showed fantastic arrangement skills on the first album and they’ve raised the bar even higher here.
The songs, all beautifully voiced and making frequent use of odd time signatures and intricate, syncopated rhythms, are all complex works of art that are still accessible to the point of being extremely humble, which, in my opinion, is one of the primary elements of a great song. And I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t take a moment to talk about Parker as a composer. All but one of the songs on this collection was written by him (the exception being Struve’s "Euro Ring"), and they are all excellent. As I’ve said in many past reviews, all too often great players produce sub par albums due to their insistence on writing all the material themselves, seemingly unaware of the fact that skills as composers are quite inferior to their skills as players. Thankfully, Parker doesn’t fall into that group. Not only is he one of the top trombone players on the scene today, he’s one of my favorite composers. He has a way with melody and harmony that is both elegant and unique. Listening to his songs, you are instantly aware that a lot of time and energy was spent to perfect them and yet they all contain an organic essence that is missing in a lot of modern jazz today.
Of course, without a great band, all this great writing would be for naught, and needless to say, the band is simply superb. It’s been said that you can often judge a jazz musician by the company they keep, and these guys all come with impressive resumes: Pianist Barsh is a member of the renowned Avishai Cohen Trio and has played with Branford Marsalis, Boys II Men and Bobby McFerrin, among others. Saxophonist Perez was the only U.S. representative selected to perform in the final elimination round of The International Saxophone competition where he won 2nd place out of hundreds of applicants from more than 20 countries. He has had stints with Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker and Claire Fischer. Bassist Fallow is from the Jeremy Pelt Quartet and the TK Blue Quintet. Drummer Struve has been a member of the Parker Collective since 2001. He has a masters degree from Purchase College and is a much sought after teacher and player in the New York area, having recently performed with Wycliffe Gordon, Mark Rapp and Walter Blanding. Parker himself was awarded the 2005 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award (incredibly, he’s only 28) and has played with a ton of heavy cats, from Charlie Persip to Frank Lacy, in addition to hosting the popular Sunday Night jam session at Rose Live Music.
Special mention must be given to the two guest artists - saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and trumpeter Maurice Brown. Brown’s 2006 debut release Hip To Bop is, in my opinion, one of the top 5 jazz albums of the year and I recently saw Shaw perform a concert with Roy Haynes in which he completely stole the show. What they both bring to this recording is incalculable and a testament to Parker’s ability to bring together not just great players, but the right great players. Finding Space is a remarkable album by a group of overachievers that make the magic of great music seem all too easy.