Somebody once asked me to find two words that describe the music I make, and the words I picked were 'spontaneous' and 'cinematic,'" says Aaron Parks. Having clarified the essence of his art, the pianist kept those two words closely in mind while conceiving and recording Invisible Cinema, his extraordinary debut for the Blue Note label. In its virtuosity and harmonic complexity, Invisible Cinema speaks to Parks's immersion in jazz on the highest level, even as it references a wider world of contemporary music-making.
Parks came to the attention of Blue Note during his five-year tenure with Terence Blanchard, during which he appeared on three of the trumpeter's acclaimed Blue Note albums: Bounce, Flow and A Tale of God's Will. Parks is now delighted to follow the example of another Blanchard alum, Lionel Loueke, who debuted on Blue Note with the evocative album Karibu in March 2008. "I'm thrilled to be a part not only of the classic Blue Note legacy, but also the new legacy, which includes Terence, Lionel, Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, Cassandra Wilson and so many great artists," Parks enthuses.
There is drama to be found, of course, in music well beyond the jazz realm, and Parks, like many of his peers, has nourished an eclectic taste. "I listen to tons of rock," he says, "and I'm influenced by the artists lots of jazz players listen to, like Radiohead and Björk, but also Talk Talk, Blonde Redhead, Me'shell Ndegeocello and straight-up indie-pop like Death Cab for Cutie, unashamedly."
After mentioning the full-blast guitar solo on "Harvesting Dance" as a key rock-like moment on the album, Parks notes how Bulgarian music and the work of John Zorn's Masada also influenced the piece, which was previously recorded on Terence Blanchard's Flow. One can contrast this with the plaintive solo piano tracks "Into the Labyrinth" and "Afterglow," which Parks calls "scene changes," or the jaunty, bluesy vibe of "Roadside Distraction," described by the pianist as an anomaly. "That song is really a part of the 'invisible cinema' right there," he laughs. "It really animates a specific scene."
For Parks to make such a strong showing at the tender age of 24 isn't surprising. At age 14 he enrolled in an early entrance college program; by 15 he was attending University of Washington with a triple-major in math, computer science and music. "Early on I never thought I could have a career in music," he recalls. "But then I started to have those experiences where you're playing and you completely lose yourself, and the music plays you. I got so addicted to that feeling. I think everyone who plays improvisational music tries to reach that state. Hopefully, if you do it more and more, you find the trick to make it more consistent."
With his technically involved yet boundlessly melodic and sensitive playing, and with the sense of color and imagination he conveys in every musical situation, Parks is setting a new standard for jazz piano expression. In the time since his stint with Terence Blanchard, he has toured the world as a member of Rosenwinkel's quintet. At the Jazz Gallery, a groundbreaking jazz venue in lower Manhattan, he recently premiered a new collection of pieces titled "Archetypes: Character Studies in Sound," as part of the Gallery's prestigious Composer Series. In his recent recordings as a sideman—on Christian Scott's Anthem, Kendrick Scott's The Source, Gretchen Parlato's self-titled debut as well as the above-mentioned titles by Moreno and Penman—Parks has imbued the music of his peers with a spirited, searching intelligence. Invisible Cinema, his most significant milestone to date, sends him off and running on a solo career that is sure to awe listeners for years to come.