Guitarist Jeff Parker has been a highly versatile musician, arranger, composer, and producer since the early ’90s. His relaxed yet precise guitar playing easily adapts to numerous genres and configurations of musicians, ranging from post-bop to experimental electronic music to indie rock. Parker is highly regarded as an ensemble player, as evidenced by his membership in Tortoise, 1990s sessions with Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble, his early tenures in the Brian Blade Fellowship and Chicago Underground Duo, Isotope 217, and 21st century recordings with Makaya McCraven, Fred Anderson, Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, and Matana Roberts. His own albums are a diverse lot. 2004′s Relatives showcased his post-bop quartet. 2016′s The New Breed offered jazz originals influenced by soul, old-school R&B, and hip-hop. He continued in that direction on 2020′s Suite for Max Brown. In December 2021, the solo guitar album Forfolks appeared. In September 2022, Eastside Romp, an archival 2016 studio date, was issued by RogueArt. In October, the guitarist’s Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy was released by Eremite. A years later, Lados B, an improvised trio collaboration with Daniel Villarreal-Carrillo and Anna Butterss was released by International Anthem.
A guitarist from a young age, Parker studied at the Berklee College of Music before relocating to Chicago in 1991. He became an associate member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1995 and played guitar with jazz artists such as Ernest Dawkins, Ted Sirota, and Pat Mallinger. Later in the decade, he co-founded electro-jazz fusion group Isotope 217 and Chicago Underground Orchestra, both including Rob Mazurek. Parker joined Tortoise in time for their acclaimed 1998 album TNT, which was one of their most jazz-oriented releases.
He became an in-demand artist in several genres of music, working with musicians ranging from Smog (Bill Callahan) to Fred Anderson, and forming additional ensembles such as Aesop Quartet, Tricolor, and Vega. In 2003, Delmark Records released Parker’s debut album as a leader, Like-Coping, which also featured Chris Lopes and Chad Taylor. Parker also recorded a more abrasive improvisational album, Out Trios, Vol. 2, with Kevin Drumm and Michael Zerang. The following year, he released solo album The Relatives on Thrill Jockey and Song Songs Song (with Scott Fields) on Delmark. His next recording as a leader was Bright Light in Winter, also featuring Lopes and Taylor and credited to Jeff Parker Trio, which arrived on Delmark in 2011.
Parker relocated to Los Angeles in 2013. Two years later, he and Mazurek recorded Some Jellyfish Live Forever, which was issued by French label Rogue Art. The label also released Gain, the debut album by hip-hop/jazz group Illtet, which featured Parker along with Mike Ladd, High Priest (Antipop Consortium), and Tyshawn Sorey. Parker expanded on his hip-hop influence and interest in sampling techniques with his 2016 solo album The New Breed, released by International Anthem. Later in the year, Parker released the solo LP Slight Freedom on the Eremite label, which included a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids.”
In 2018, he paired with saxophonist Kjetil Møster, bassist Joshua Abrams, and drummer John Herndon for Ran Do. Later that year, he issued the quintet offering The Diagonal Filter on Not Two Records. His sidemen included trombonist Jeb Bishop, pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Luther Gray. Two years later, in January 2020, Parker issued Suite for Max Brown (titled for and dedicated to his mother Maxine), the sophomore outing by his studio pickup group the New Breed. Along with Jamire Williams, who returned from the first incarnation, sidemen included McCraven, Mazurek, Paul Bryan, Jay Bellerose, and cellist Katinka Kleijn, though many of its pieces were performed completely solo.
Parker followed in 2021 with the solo guitar Forfolks on International Anthem/Nonesuch. The eight-song set included readings of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” and the Richard A. Whiting, Newell Chase, Leo Robin standard “My Ideal,” as well as six original compositions including the title track — first recorded in 1995 — and “La Jetée” (initially recorded with Isotope 217 in 1997 and later with Tortoise). Its four remaining originals were composed specifically for this project.
Between 2020 and 2022, Parker remained busy as a studio musician. In addition to his own recordings, he played on titles by Steve Gunn (Other You), Theo Croker (Blk2Life/A Future Past), Makaya McCraven (In These Times), and Anteloper (Pink Dolphins) among others. In September, France’s Rogue Art released Eastside Romp, a 2016 studio date that showcased Parker in a trio with the Tarbaby rhythm section of bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits. Alongside various originals, the trio covered Marion Brown’s “Similar Limits.”
In October, Parker issued Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy on Eremite. Flanked by a quartet that included drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Anna Butterss, and alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, he recorded it at a tiny a bar in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and named it after a reference in David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest. the tracks were edited down from ten-plus hours of two-track recordings made between 2019 and 2021 by Bryce Gonzales, and offered an unusually exploratory side of the guitarist’s music. ~ Paul Simpson