New York Gravity, the debut album from the Rick Parker Collective is by far one of the best jazz albums I’ve heard in quite some time. And I listen to an enormous amount of jazz, so that’s saying something. When I listen to this CD, it immediately conjures thoughts of Miles Davis’ mid-60s super group with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Davis’ group was a quartet and this version of the Rick Parker Collective is a sextet, but they’re more alike than the are different. One of the things that made the Davis quartet so great, besides their superb musicianship, was their ability to play so well as an ensemble and yet still retain their individual voices. The Parker Collective has that same high degree of musicianship, that same one-mindedness as a group and that same strong sense of individuality.
The Rick Parker Collective consists of Rick Parker on trombone, Charis Ioannou on tenor and soprano saxes and bass clarinet, Andrew Haskell on piano and Fender Rhodes, Matt Grason on double-bass, Kyle Struve on drums and special guest Thad Wilson on trumpet and flugelhorn. This recording features all original compositions, most of them contributed by Parker, with one each by Wilson, Grason and Ioannou. The group really shows what a triple threat they are here, with not only great playing, but great writing and great arrangements, as well. The Parker Collective is one of the tightest groups around, and it’s a good thing too, because the arrangements here are extremely intricate and complex, and in the hands of a lesser group the seams would surely show. But they run through them with Swiss-clock precision, making it sound easy.
The album opens with the title track, "New York Gravity" (Wilson’s one composition), a Latin-influenced groove, that manages to sound both classic and modern at the same time. It features short, impressive solos and an ending that kind of dissolves in an unusual but most satisfying way. Parker says he conceived "Experiment in Mist-ery" while walking one evening in a rainfall so light that "the drops seemed to be suspended in the air." That’s exactly the feel that this track imparts - light, airy, cleansing. "M.C. Filmaker" is a laid-back, in-the-pocket track that serves as a great vehicle for Parker and Haskell’s solos. The beautiful ballad "Thank You" (a Grason composition) really reflects the group’s ability to perform as a unit even when playing with great sensitivity. "On The Move" opens with a slow, solo piano intro before they pick up the tempo and move on to the interesting yet quirky head. Dig the beautiful way they slow the tempo down mid-song after the trumpet solo, with trombone and bass clarinet playing counterpoint to each other before going back into the head and the outro.
"Transitation," a Parker original that borrows a bit from Herbie Hancock’s "Eye Of The Hurricane", is my favorite track on the album. Ioannou’s tenor work on this song is truly inspired. "The New Path" gives Parker and Ioannou a little more room to spread out and show off their excellent improvisational skills. "The Exit" begins as a ballad and ends as a nice midtempo number and really shows how well the horns blend together. On "Going Out", an original by the saxophonist, we get treated to the elegance of Ioannou’s soulful soprano sound and a short but impressive drum solo from Struve. The album closes with "10/31 At Dusk", an enticing tune with a slightly "Caravan"-like Middle-Eastern flavor.
The Rick Parker Collective is the best-of-the-best of the new, hot young jazz groups on the scene today. This is one of those groups that begs to be seen live. I hope to one day get the opportunity. In the meantime, I’m eagerly looking forward to their next release.