An engaging album from a young jazz artist.

Chris Parker – Moving Forward Now – Self-released, 75:20 [10/6/17] ****:

[Artist and Track List below]

What were you doing at age 20? Trying to get through university? Maybe a hitch in the military? Finding your footing in a post-high school job? Navigating that first serious relationship? If you’re drummer Chris Parker, it’s time for your first CD as a leader, the 75-minute and aptly-named Moving Forward Now. The Indiana-based artist has shared stages with saxophonists Jim Snidero and Greg Abate, and others. For his self-released debut, Parker enlisted 13 musicians to assist him on 13 tracks which range from Parker’s originals (including a four-part suite) to classical music; and from jazz standards to a Bob Dylan tune. Some of the better-known personnel include guitarist Dave Stryker (who is on two cuts), pianist Luke Gillespie (an important Indiana jazz mainstay), saxophonists Jamey Aebersold and Rob Dixon (both noted jazz instructors) and Indiana clarinetist Frank Glover.

Parker contributes five compositions. The five-minute title track is an optimistic tune which has a cityscape sound and an urbane and slightly urban tone. Jesse Wittman excels on his stand-up bass while Dixon plays smoothly and with a touch of soulfulness. Parker sustains a joyful groove while propelling the tune forward. Parker’s groove-filled “Trippin-A-Let” is one of the longer cuts and is heightened by Stryker’s always soulful guitar chords. Tom Clark’s swaying tenor sax also embraces a riffing momentum; Gillespie has a good improvisation segment which showcases his keyboard intricacy. Another lengthy number is the 8:15 “Positive Energy,” a tranquil ballad reminiscent of John Klemmer’s work, where Parker switches to warm and tender tenor sax and Jay Tibbitts does the drums duty with an emphasis on nuanced cymbals. One highlight is Gillespie’s delightful piano soloing; another is Jeremy Allen’s standup bass solo. Traditional jazz leans through the mid-tempo and swinging “It’s No Secret,” where Aebersold and Dixon on twinned saxes trade horn licks with trumpeter Pat Harbison. “It’s No Secret” has the kind of pre-bop gleam which should appeal to Scott Hamilton fans. Parker closes his album with his four-part “Then and Now Suite,” which commences with the 2:25 introductory “Discovery,” which has a modern slant; then the four-minute upbeat twister “The Process,” where Dixon and Gillespie bring in some feverous and discordant improvising; followed by the poignant “Arrival”; and finally, the concluding “Enjoy the Process,” a contemporary jazz piece with lots of confident flavoring.

Parker’s choice of cover material is eclectic, to say the least. He opens the CD with a carefree translation of the patriotic “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with Stryker’s electric guitar providing a soulful vibe and Steve Snyder’s Hammond organ putting a soul-jazz spin on the Civil War-era song. After the short intro, you might not realize you’re still listening to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and may think you’re hearing something from a 1960’s Blue Note session instead of a composition from the 1860’s. That’s not even the most extreme interpretation. That is probably Parker’s jazz arrangement of “Adagio Sostenuto” from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, composed in 1901. After Parker begins with a classical motif, he heads straight into jazz territory and mostly leaves off the Rachmaninoff. Glover is the special guest on “Adagio Sostenuto” and his clarinet confers a nice sparkle to the tune’s second half. Parker steps into folk terrain with his adaptation of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” where Craig Wagner integrates glittering guitar and guest vocalist Rachel Caswell adds a splendid jazz voice to Dylan’s plea for communication between two people. From the jazz canon comes Sam River’s “Beatrice,” (from River’s first LP, 1964’s Fuchsia Swing Song) which has a mid-tempo and lightly bluesy stride and is a sunny setting for Wagner’s warmly-tinted guitar improvising and more of Gillespie’s piano soloing. There’s also a zippy run through the standard “Autumn Leaves.” Despite so many musicians and different compositions, Parker’s Moving Forward Now has continuity and plenty of group camaradery. This is an impressive outing for such a young jazz player. Parker presents his ability to act as bandleader; supplies some solid and good originals; and exhibits a talent for picking interesting covers done with refreshing inventiveness.

Battle Hymn of the Republic
Adagio Sostenuto
Moving Forward Now
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Positive Energy
Autumn Leaves
It’s No Secret
Then and Now Suite: I. Discovery II. The Process III. Arrival IV. Enjoy the Process

Chris Parker – drums, tenor saxophone (track 7), executive producer, arranger; Luke Gillespie – piano; Steve Snyder – organ (track 1); Jeremy Allen – bass (tracks 2, 5, 7-8); Jesse Wittman – bass (tracks 3-4, 6, 9-13); Dave Stryker – guitar (tracks 1-5); Craig Wagner – guitar (tracks 4, 6); James Aebersold – alto saxophone (track 9); Rob Dixon – saxophone (tracks 3, 9-13); Tom Clark – tenor saxophone (track 5); Frank Glover – clarinet (track 2); Pat Harbison – trumpet (tracks 5, 9); Jay Tibbitts – drums (track 7); Rachel Caswell – voice (track 6)

—Doug Simpson