Review | Jeff Parker’s jazz sounds cool, clarifying and totally real


The whole thing starts with Jeff Parker combing an elliptical three-note pattern out of his electric guitar strings until the adjacent blah-blahs eventually blink out, which happens quickly because it is a Monday night and the looky-loos are all home watching Netflix. But inside this room, Parker’s audience is clearly made up of the nightlife’s most committed citizens, and once their conversations go quiet, assorted glasses and bottles continue to plink from behind the bar, sending some kind of Morse-coded announcement about verisimilitude: The jazz you are about to hear really happened somewhere.

So begins Parker’s fantastic new live double-album, “Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy,” its title referring to the Los Angeles cocktail bar in Highland Park where it was recorded on certain Monday nights in 2019 and 2021. As for the bar’s name, it is a nod to the setting of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” but don’t get too distracted by that. The most important word in the album title is “Monday.” In addition to explaining the crowd’s attentive cool, it also signals this music’s sense of composure, renewal, foresight and getting-back-to-workness.

And although these fluid, flexible, groove-minded improvisations almost never feel labored, Parker is at work here. As a longtime member of the Chicago post-rock band Tortoise, the 55-year-old guitarist has long known how to create indelible melodies as if stumbling across them, posting a song’s defining features as the result of concentration without strain. With this band — drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Anna Butterss, saxophonist Josh Johnson, altogether dubbed the ETA IVtet — Parker’s playing feels as clarifying as ever, drawing bright, clean lines over thoughtfully propulsive rhythms. His “work” is not about sweat, struggle or urgency so much as calm-keeping, problem-solving and measured collective progress. Which working style sounds more heroic to you these days?

There is plenty of play in this music, too, though, and it comes somersaulting to the fore whenever Parker or Johnson initiate their copycat games, sending melody lines back and forth until the repetition starts to blot out the clock. In an interview at San Francisco’s Amoeba Records this year, Parker explained his affection for Elements, a jazz fusion group from the ’80s who “get into this kind of repetitive space … that I kind of can’t get enough of.” Not being able to get enough of something that never runs out? Sounds like a pretty good deal. Of course, it is available to us in Parker’s work, too. Repetition does not have to be a redundancy that wears us down. It can be endlessness that enlivens us.

Which takes us back to Highland Park, where this music originally unfolded in a precise parcel of space across a few finite swatches of time. What is funny is how neither space nor time are truly fixed. This bar might have a street address, but it is still stuck on a planet being perpetually flung around an expanding universe. As for those Monday nights, they became endlessly replayable with the creation of these recordings, housing repetitions inside repetitions. In other words, the incomprehensibility of space-time can feel small and Monday night can last forever. Plink-plink-plink. The jazz you just heard really happened somewhere, and it is happening still.

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