Celebrated guitarist Jeff Parker builds electrifying jazz songs out of experimental demos on Suite for Max Brown | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Celebrated guitarist Jeff Parker builds electrifying jazz songs out of experimental demos on Suite for Max Brown

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Chicago music remains interesting and vital partly because of how local subcultures overlap and intersect. The city has plenty of tight communities of musicians focused on specific sounds, but the borders around those communities are porous; improvising multi-instrumentalists collaborate with rappers, hip-hop producers take in jazz gigs, and rock musicians immerse themselves in hardware-centric underground dance scenes. This cross-pollinating ecosystem owes its continued existence to figures such as Jeff Parker. He’s famous as a jazz guitarist, a member of Tortoise, an in-demand sideman, and a free improviser, but he also has less well-publicized talents: his DJ sets at defunct Wicker Park club Rodan attracted jazz fiends and arty hip-hop producers who’ve since built up Chicago’s blossoming beat scene. Parker moved to Los Angeles in 2013, but he’s kept Chicago close to his heart. In January, he put out Suite for Max Brown, his second solo album for celebrated local label International Anthem (in partnership with indie heavy Nonesuch). As he did for 2016’s The New Breed, Parker shaped the new album’s songs by experimenting with hip-hop production and synth hardware, fleshing out his early demos into lush recordings that retain the electricity and feel of a dusty, eccentric vinyl sample hiccuping through a hip-hop cut. Parker handles much of the instrumentation on Suite for Max Brown himself—he plays guitar, piano, drums, and a semi-modular Korg synthesizer on the whimsically unsteady “Build a Nest,” which sounds complete thanks to the surefooted vocals of emerging Chicago talent Ruby Parker (who’s also his daughter). On other tracks, he taps into his extensive network of musician friends to bring his material home; drummer Makaya McCraven and bassist Paul Bryan help give “Go Away” its thrilling combination of slinky riffs, bustling rhythms, and mesmerizing atmosphere.   v

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