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Chris Parker in "All About Jazz" 

Pianist Chris Parker's second CD release on OA2 Records, Full Circle, sounds like an exciting live set full of vigorous life, something that engages the crowd and gets them up out of their seat, dancing. It's a quintet—common enough in jazz—with the uncommon use of violin in the front line beside the saxophone, reeling out unison lines with the horn, or stepping out in sinuous solo slots. 

John Nastos is the alto sax guy who breaks out the soprano horn here and there. Violinist Rob Thomas is his front line cohort. Their unison work makes for sonorities not often heard. Nastos on his a solo spots has a biting sharp edge, like a well-honed knife slicing through the ensemble sound; and Nastos brings in a gypsy atmosphere when he steps out. 

But really this is about the ensemble sound and Parker's terrific compositions. The opens with the modern-leaning title tune, a burner with a glossy group sheen that gives way to alto saxophonist John Nastos, with his sharp, growly tone. "Step One" sounds like a soundtrack to a gypsy maiden dancing around a blazing camp fire. Pianist Parker takes his own keyboard dance step, ebullient and free-flowing, leading into a swinging solo by violinist Rob Thomas, who lays down a sensuous, stretched-out lines. 

"Left at Bingen" begins with a quirky, stop time groove. Parker supplies a rollicking solo, and violin and sax trade statements in front of an insistent rhythm. "Stages," gives off an ominous vibe, with Nastos biting off his sharp edged notes over a funk-tinged momentum laid down by drummer Marko Marcinko and bassist Tony Marino. "Free" takes the mood in a reflective direction, with Nastos switching to the soprano saxophone, with the band providing a restrained and gorgeous backdrop. Add to the mix a particularly inspired violin solo from Thomas. 

Lots of styles are offered up here, but Parker's vision keeps the whole cohesive on this stimulating set of sounds.

Chris Parker in "All About Jazz" 

Pianist Chris Parker is a musical explorer. He has travelled around the world musically and as his latest album Full Circle indicates, he has reached his destination and found an aesthetic where all the different aspects of his musical curiosity come together. 

While Parker travels a lot musically, he doesn't visit the melancholy North on this album, even though he is definitely capable of writing reflective ballad-like compositions like "Free" and "First Light." 

Instead, the focus on the album is the vibrant rhythms of Latin America, with a strong touch of swing, blues and funk, not least courtesy of bassist Tony Marino, who changes effortlessly between acoustic and electric bass and provides tasty slap bass playing on "Stages" where saxophonist John Nastos also takes it away as a David Sanborn on fire. Another key-player is violinist Robert Thomas Jr. It is relatively rare to find a violinist in a jazz context, but here it really works and Thomas brings out the folk-like elements of the compositions. He swings convincingly, but he also gets down with the blues on "Emmy's Shuffle." 

It' s no surprise that the players in Parker's band are capable of playing multiple genres. His compositions show an encyclopedic knowledge of rhythms ranging from tango to blues, but they never become dry academic exercises. This is music filled with life and rhythm. A true melting pot worth checking out.

Chris Parker on AllMusic

Pianist Chris Parker's Late In Lisbon, which consists of ten of his originals, gets off to a particularly strong start with a heated and tricky 36-bar calypso number, "Calypso Facto," which features fluent and spirited solos from Peter Epstein on soprano sax, Parker, and violinist Rob Thomas.


While "The Chimney" is funky, "The Return" (which finds Epstein in top form on alto) is driving and has a catchy forward momentum stated by bassist Tony Marino. "Under The Bridge" has plenty of fire, while the title track, "Late In Lisbon," is a bit reminiscent of Chick Corea's post-Return To Forever work, and "The Thought Of Seeing You" is a melancholy ballad.


"The Long Way Around" has a catchy groove not too far from "Freedom Jazz Dance," and the extended "There's Been A Slight Change Of Plans" features a mysterious and oddly appealing groove. "Night Song" is introspective, and the closing "Passage" is an upbeat groover. Throughout this set, the consistently colorful solos of ParkerEpstein and Thomas, with fine backup work from Marino, drummer Marko Marcinko, and (on two numbers) percussionist Bob Velez, makes this a particularly strong and memorable release of fairly accessible modern jazz.

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