Review by Brad Walseth
Twenty-four-year-old Seattle-born pianist Aaron Parks has been making his way up the ranks for several years now. An early entry college student at 14 in computer science and music, Parks was chosen at age 15 to participate in the GRAMMY High School Jazz Ensemble, which in turn led him to relocate at age 16 to NYC and the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. Parks soon found himself touring and recording with trumpeter Terrence Blanchard, appearing on three albums including 2007's acclaimed Grammy-winning "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)." Currently touring with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, Parks has clearly absorbed his lessons well. "Invisible Cinema," Park's debut as leader, shows the keyboardist emulating some of Blanchard's cinematic vistas, as well as integrating his own personal influences (like modern rock) in a surprisingly mature release.
Utilizing a sterling supporting cast, including fellow Blanchard band members, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland, Parks crafts some delicious music that falls into an original area of its own. The music is clearly keyboard-centric, but Parks has enlisted another Blanchard protege, guitarist Mike Moreno, to round things out. He gives Moreno plenty of latitude and the young guitarist comes through with some highly expressive playing. The guitar work on "Nemesis" is gnarled and fusiony, but restrained and complements Park's intelligent and subtle piano work and surprising glockenspiel. There is an air of mystery pervading the song, and indeed the entire album, that is quite addictive.
"Travelers" opens with an intriguing jazz piano over almost a bass and drum-type feel. Longer pieces like "Peaceful Warrior" and "Karma" offer the band in extended arrangements that flow easily from the quiet to the rocking. This is both exciting and contemplative music in the same package. "Riddle Me This" is shifting and catchy pop music, while "Into the Labyrinth" showcases Parks in a solo setting. "Roadside Distraction" dips into a bit of River Jordan gospel, while "Harvesting Dance" is peppered with a tasty Spanish flavor. "Praise" is all hope and joy under wide blue skies into the lovely "Afterglow." A fine release on its own, "Invisible Cinema" is a premiere first reel of what we hope will be a long and storied career. Two thumbs up.