In the liner notes to his long-overdue debut as a leader, the new Like-Coping (Delmark), guitarist Jeff Parker admits he was uneasy about launching a project under his own name. “I have always felt that music-making is a communal gesture,” he writes. “When an aggregation of musicians get together to create, particularly in a setting that deals with improvisation, the most compelling results, for me, are those that embrace the whole, rather than the sum of the parts.” For the past decade Parker has lived out that credo: as one of the most important, flexible, and vibrant players in Chicago, he’s bridged the gaps between the rock, jazz, and improv communities with no fuss, in projects such as Tortoise, Isotope 217, the Chicago Underground Quartet, and New Horizons Ensemble. Whatever his role–contributing pinpoint lines to puzzle-like arrangements, underlining rhythms, coloring in spaces, streamlining whirlwinds of emotion into masterfully compact solos, and composing–Parker consistently serves the needs of the group rather than grandstanding. He hasn’t ditched his ideal just because his name is on this album cover: his bandmates–drummer Chad Taylor, who plays some classical guitar on “Roundabout,” and bassist Chris Lopes, an original member of the various Chicago Underground groups–together contribute as many tunes to Like-Coping as Parker does, and there are two spiky group improvisations as well. But the spotlight still ends up on Parker, and he doesn’t disappoint. Primarily using a clean but muted tone, he solos with clear logic, and his explorations of motifs often lead him to the most remote harmonic crannies; on the free-improv pieces he splits the difference between the splintery patterns of Derek Bailey and the expressionistic roar of Sonny Sharrock. Parker mostly played standards during his long engagement at Pete Miller’s in Evanston last year, so it’ll be a treat to hear him dig into an original repertoire that includes such varied numbers as the groove-oriented “Watusi” and the knotty but pretty “Scrambler.” And since his compatriots both live out of town, this trio setting is a treat as well. Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.