Lee Pardini: Homebodies

Soulful urbanism and laidback improv are the order of the day in debut album from Manhattan School of Music jazz piano grad


Born in San José, California, Lee Pardini graduated from Manhattan’s School of Music with a degree in jazz piano in 2007, forming his own quintet the same year. Returning to the West Coast, in 2016 he joined Malibu indie-folk rockers Dawes for three albums and five years of touring. He has also played with top names including Roger Waters, Phil Lesh, Shelby Lynne, Jonathan Wilson, Elvis Costello, Theo Katzman, The Growlers and San Francisco ska combo the Whiskey Avengers. Homebodies is his debut jazz album.

Pardini is joined by guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise, Isotope 217, Chicago Underground Trio), pedal steel picker Rich Hinman (Taurus, kd lang, Roseanne Cash, Sara Bareilles), Josh Johnson on alto sax (Kiefer, Makaya McCrave, Leon Bridges, Marquis Hill), bassist Paul Bryan (Allen Toussaint, Norah Jones, Irma Thomas, Mavis Staples), former Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith and percussionist Davey Chegwidden (De La Soul, The Lions, Macy Gray, The Black Eyed Peas).

Homebodies starts with the dreamy, layered tones of Whatsoever, a slow, ethereal improvisational melding of keyboards, guitar and jaunty sax. Things promise to hot up with Goldsmith’s military style drummed opening on Main Title, continuing in the same out-there experimental style before an alternately lonely and dynamic guitar passage builds to a late flurry of busy keyboard runs and frenetic drum fills. Sibley features brooding lower-end piano and extraordinarily arranged pedal steel from Hinman, surprising later with careless ivory cascades, while One Day At A Time sees Pardini’s energetic piano joined by sprightly sax and some nice guitar action.

Highlights include Lou, which finds Pardini unaccompanied on a delicate, introspective piano composition; ETA with its repeating percussive patterns and keyboard-sax-guitar interplay which then reverts to a slumbersome mood before returning with rambunctious drum work; and the sublime closer Rancho, which adheres to a more recognisable traditional form, as piano and guitar engage in a playful sparring match.

The use of synthesisers and the combination of piano, guitars and saxophone give the album a soulful, urban flavour, with occasional nods to the classical, and the musicianship is of the highest standard all round – although it would be nice to hear more from Hinman. While the spotlight naturally falls on the principal artist, the layered keyboard-synth passages are occasionally a tad too dominant, and there could more variation in mood and tempo, but fans of this laid-back style of improv will surely enjoy the music here.

Whatsoever; Main Title; ETA; Home; Sibley; One Day At A Time; Lou; LV, NV; Most Fun I’ve Had All Week; Rancho (58.28)
Pardini (p, kyb); Jeff Parker (g); Rich Hinman (g, pedal steel); Josh Johnson (as); Paul Bryan (b); Griffin Goldsmith (d); Davey Chegwidden (pc). Los Angeles, 2020.
GroundUP Music 237