In the summer of 2014, Aaron Parks held a ten-week DIVA (Danish International Visiting Artists program) residency in Denmark. By then, at the age of 30, the American pianist had already achieved an independent sound, but on these two albums arising from his Danish tenure he thrives on the unsolvable riddle of collaboration.
When Parks released his 2013 disc of solo improvisations (Arborescence, ECM), he earned knee-jerk comparisons to fellow pianist and ECM stalwart Keith Jarrett. Yet while their styles could hardly be more different, they do have one thing in common: a genuine respect for melody. It’s this sense of song and structure that balances Parks’ youthful optimism with patience.
On Groovements, he shares a studio with bassist Thomas Fonnesbæk and drummer Karsten Bagge. Despite being the first time this trio had recorded together—playing tunes written especially for this session, no less—these virtual strangers make for a cohesive mesh.
As if in service of that point, the group improvisation “Shapes ‘n’ Colors” is among the more seamless tracks. No less groovy than its satellites, the tune hits all the right pressure points and is every bit as flexible as Parks’ distinctly New York-ian “Elutheria.” Fonnesbæk and Bagge contribute two originals apiece, the former’s “Winter Waltz” and “Forever This Moment” being special vehicles for the composer’s artistry while the latter’s “Alcubierre’s Law” and “A Rabbit’s Tale,” not surprisingly, capitalize on the rhythmic core. The trio does bare its traditional chops, however, when handling the swing of Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia” and evergreen “You And The Night And The Music” with tact. Even the two surprises, Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” and Danish classical composer Carl Nielsen’s “Tit Er Jeg Glad,” proceed with confident logic.
Duets in June would seem to be the more intimate project on paper, but its unusual combination of guitar and piano reaches more broadly and adventurously, the pepper to Groovements’ salt.
Much credit goes to guitarist Thomas Maintz, who wrote all the music except for three improvisations. The latter are the highpoints of this date—exercises in unforced seeking from two musicians who don’t just react to, but converse with each other. Where the drunken “Absinthe” and photorealistic “East Village Waltz” are tongue-in-cheekily illustrative, “Six String Levitation” (featuring Parks on melodica) and ambient “Please Hum (A Hymn)” offer more cerebral delights. Maintz speaks most lucidly through his acoustic baritone guitar, as on “Nude in Red Armchair,” in which his adaptability comes to the fore. All that said, it is Parks whose underlying feel for mood and message rings truest. Whether singing at the keys in “Secret Hallway” or going solo for “Riddles Dressed in White,” he understands that tenderness in music is more than a pantomime. It’s a way of life.
(This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, of which a full PDF is available here.)