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Jeff Parker’s Suite for Max Brown defies all manner of rules, genres, conventions, and expectations

Last updated on January 19, 2020

Jeff Parker‘s Suite for Max Brown is ostensibly a jazz record, but there’s so much going on in this amazing record that it would sell it short to just say it’s jazz.

The first four tracks alone include some sort of post-jazz indie-pop (“Build a Nest”), old-school Motown soul (“C’Mon Now”), frantic bass-and-breakbeat jazz (“Fusion Swirl”), and a new-age-y smooth jazz version of Coltrane’s “After the Rain.” [It should be noted that I like new age music, from Andreas Vollenweider to Enya; this is not pejorative.] Then “Metamorphoses” is basically space ambient. It takes all the way until track 6 (“Gnarciss,” itself including bits of Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus”) to find something that even approximates contemporary jazz norms–and even then it swerves from them by introducing synth, marimba, and strings into the combo. Just for kicks, the 56-second “Lydian” is, I think, actually in the Lydian mode. Amazing.

When I write this out, it seems like the record would just be a sonic mishmash, a happenstance collection of things that sound nothing alike. The most amazing thing about this record is that the whole thing hangs together. The melodies have a sort of feel to them, the moods have some connections, and the whole record is–surprisingly–coherent and stable. I chalk this up to great composition but also to excellent production; every instrument on this record absolutely pops. The recording is solid, the mixing is ace, and the mastering is excellent.

I won’t steal all the wonder from this incredible record. There are so many joys to discover. I’ll just mention that the centerpiece of the record, the thing that ties all of the work together, is the closer: 10-minute “Max Brown.” Almost everything that’s in the rest of the album makes its way into this piece, which makes it the perfect way to end your time with Jeff Parker. This is highly adventurous, deeply engaging, fascinating work. If you like instrumental music of any variety (not just jazz), you should check out Suite for Max Brown. The album drops tomorrow. —Stephen Carradini