With credits as diverse as Chicago postrock collective Tortoise and free-jazz band Ernest Dawkins’s New Horizons Ensemble, guitarist and composer Jeff Parker owns a unique vocabulary. He’s been able to muster expressions of self within groups and as a bandleader across 30 years of work, and now he offers a new solo dispatch, Forfolks. “Suffolk” employs guitar loops piled one upon another, cascading with Parker’s melodic and rhythmic ideas and becoming a fully realized guitar symphony when he solos atop them. It’s a method Parker employs across Forfolks, an album named for a tune he wrote and recorded while working with drummer and bandleader Ted Sirota in 1996. Parker recontextualizes other pieces he created as a member of rock-leaning acts, casting a fingerpicked calmness over something that might have initially been intended to function with a backbeat. He reimagines “La Jetée”—a composition whose history dates back to 1997, when members of Tortoise and Chicago Underground Orchestra first convened as jazz-fusion group Isotope 217—by giving it more of a definite shape than it’s previously had, turning it into a somber ballad that closes the album. There’s also an interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” where Parker delicately treads the jazz pianist’s progression, turning in something just as tender and thoughtful as the original but augmented with the long tones of studio magic. Nels Cline could be considered a sensible point of comparison to Parker; both guitarists forged careers rooted in jazz, then spiraled out to encompass a mix of styles, including avant-garde rock and quieter, moody experiments. Where they diverge, though, is musical personality. Cline continues to exert a cool downtown New York vibe, even when accompanying the relatively bucolic Wilco, but Parker’s voice is broader; he built the tracks on 2020’s Suite for Max Brown around grooves summoned from elemental funk and R&B. Throughout Forfolks, Parker makes the point that he can access just about any approach to playing his instrument, writing music, and working in the studio.
Jeff Parker’s Forfolks is available through Bandcamp after 12/10.