After graduation from Boston's Berklee College of Music, Jeff Parker decided to skip the New York jazz scene for awhile in order to pay off student loans and land in a city that seemed to embrace community a bit more than soloists. After staying in the Windy City for awhile and joining the New Horizons Ensemble, he encountered the group Tortoise and as they say, the rest is history. With his inspired and unique playing style, he found a solid home with the band and has played with side-projects like Isotope 217 and Chicago Underground as well.
According to just about every article I've read about Parker, he's about as humble as they come and prefers to always stress the importance of the overall output of a collective of musicians rather than the solo work of one (which he restated in the liner notes of the first CD under his name, Like-Coping). The Relatives is the second album under his name, and the title of the release not only refers to the name of the quartet of musicians who play on the release, but another reference to the notion of music as a community.
In eight tracks and just over forty minutes, Parker and the rest of The Relatives run through a batch of compositions that rooted in jazz but aren't afraid to dip outside that pool as well. Opener "Istanbul" is one of the tracks in which the playing of Parker seems to take the real foreground, and the quiet percussive backing and solid bass backbone simply provide a slight bed with which to rest on. "Mannerisms" takes on a much more lively feel as the rhythm section really gets trucking as Parker and electric pianist Sam Barsheshet play off one another in a series of delightful sections that convey a great deal of movement.
The middle of the album finds the group playing their only non-original work, and it's a loose take on Marvin Gaye's "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" that delights in taking the original and stretching it out and playing with it while Parker and Barsheshet again play off one another like seasoned veterans. In "The Relative," the group takes a slight detour as the electric piano and guitar parts are turned into delayed, dub-influenced melodic lines while the rhythm section holds things down while the album closes out with the explosive "Rang," a piece that toys with electronic filtering and heavy-duty workouts from all members of the group in what is easily the least structured (but probably one of the best) tracks on the album. All in all, The Relatives is sort of what you'd expect from a classically trained artist who plays in one of the more influencial bands to have come down the pipe in the past 10 years. It's warm and lush and touches on jazz and rock and a bit of other styles, but ultimately is very listenable and very well constructed.