Guitarist Jeff Parker maintains a pretty strong presence in Chicago, which is something we should all be grateful for. What’s unfortunate is that he’s only made two records as a leader–we’re talking about one of the most exciting and original guitarists of the past 15 years. His most recent outing is the 2004 Thrill Jockey release The Relatives, which veers away from the austerity of his 2003 trio recording for Delmark, Like-Coping, thanks to the plush electric piano of a fellow named Sam Barsheshet (pictured).

If you go looking for other recordings by Barsheshet, though, you’ll be lucky to find anything at all. I mentioned him when I wrote about a record-release gig for Parker’s album back in 2005, but after that it’s like the guy vanished. That’s because he shortened his last name to Barsh–which makes some sense when you try pronouncing his real name. He’s been quite active, working as a sideman for bassist Avishai Cohen and turning up on discs by Russ Nolan and Zach Brock.

Barsh was born and raised in Chicago but now lives in New York, and last year he released I Forgot What You Taught Me (Razdaz) with his New York quartet. The warmth of his vibrato-rich Fender Rhodes is much the same as it was on Parker’s album, but his own tunes and arrangements tend to be simpler and less rewarding. Though he’s clearly talented, Barsh seems to want to create chilled-out jams, the kind of gently grooving tunes that recall the 70s work of Bob James. Nobody in his group improvises much, and though some of the pieces change shape and mood in pleasing ways, too much of the record sounds like background music.

Barsh performs tomorrow night at Martyrs‘ with a trio that includes Parker and drummer Mykel Avery, a regular collaborator of Parker’s. I’m hoping the guitarist’s presence will result in more memorable music; they’ll play tunes from both The Relatives and I Forgot What You Taught Me.

Today’s playlist:

Kirk Knuffke Quartet, Big Wig (Clean Feed)
Teitur, The Singer (Cheap Lullaby)
Paula Morelenbaum, Telecoteco (Universal, Brasil)
Carlos Giffoni, Eternal Noise (Bottrop-Boy)
Noah Preminger Group, Dry Bridge Road (Nowt)