Jeff Parker: Forfolks

Solo guitarist uses loops and effects to enhance his readings of originals and covers including Monk's Ugly Beauty

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Parker first came to my attention in the mid-90s as a mainstays of the burgeoning Chicago post-rock scene. He was a founding member of Isotope 217 and Tortoise, groups whose adventurous syntheses of krautrock, electronica, dub, minimalism and jazz still sound fresh a quarter of a century later. If Parker’s improvisational chops were sometimes a little constrained in that context, a parallel career in jazz has seen him play on a string of fine recordings alongside many of the greats of the AACM.

Forfolks is Parker’s second solo guitar album, and rather like its predecessor Slight Freedom (Eremite) it can loosely be described as an unaccompanied duet. Recording in his California home with his trusty Gibson arch-top and a handful of effects, he laid down an ordered foundation of layers and loops and then improvised at will. The album’s six originals and two standards are stretched, deconstructed and remoulded to Parker’s exacting specifications, and no matter how wide-ranging the musical terrain he always seems to be on home turf.

The intersecting lattice-worked lines of Off Om, which lasts just over a minute, have no beginning, middle or end, scarcely foretelling what is to follow. The gently oscillating pulses of Four Folks combine the experimentation of Tortoise with rootsy Jim Hall-like arpeggios, while Parker’s rendition of My Ideal is straight as a die, closely following the contours of the original. Suffolk is altogether different again, its hazy proto-ambient drone accented by Parker’s brittle staccato flurries. The mood carries over into the curiously titled Flour Of Fur, where this time Parker’s mellow post-Wes tones are ascendant.

Monk’s Ugly Beauty takes a brilliantly unexpected turn as Parker introduces an icy, organ-like drone, but it’s perhaps the 10 minutes of Excess Success, where the guitarist riffs over a web of dancing minimalist loops, that is the album’s great tour de force. Tortoise and Isotope fans should enjoy the closing piece, a new version of La Jetée, and hearing it again reminded me just how crucial Parker’s influence was on the musical directions of both bands.

An unconventional solo jazz guitar album perhaps, but then Parker’s is no ordinary perspective. Straddling genre lines and bending traditions, Forfolks is the work of a true original.

Discography:
Off Om; Four Folks; My Ideal; Suffolk; Flour of Fur; Ugly Beauty; Excess Success; La Jetée (40.00)
Parker (elg). Altadena CA., 28 & 29 June 2021.
International Anthem IARC0052