Jason Parker Quartet "Five Leaves Left"

A First Listen: Jason Parker Quartet “Five Leaves Left”

I’m writing this at 2:41am as I give The Jason Parker Quartet’s new album a first listen.

A Little Background

Lead by Jason Parker’s full-toned trumpet the Jason Parker Quartet is a straight-ahead group out of the Seattle, WA jazz scene. I first heard the JPQ’s music after following Jason on Twitter, combining my love of jazz with my geeky tendencies, how early 21st century, huh? I think the first real exchange we had on Twitter was over a series of goofy tweets under the #jazzsubstandards hashtag. Jazz humor on Twitter: This is my element… anyway: when Jason announced that he was planning a Nick Drake tribute album in late 2010, and that he was going to try funding it through Kickstarter.com, I knew I had to help him out. Now I’m not saying that I funded the whole project (far from it) but in a small, affordable-for-me kind of way, I had a part in the making of this album, so forgive me if this all sounds like a producer speaking. :-)

My real initial reaction to the project was: Who’s Nick Drake? A little investigating later, and I definitely had to help Jason get this album done. (If you, like me, have no idea who Nick Drake was, give him a listen. Singer/songwriter just doesn’t quite do him justice. I received my download code like the rest of the project’s 148 backers about 20 minutes ago, so this is really a first listen, and here’s what I’m thinking song-by-song:

Time Has Told Me – The album opens with Josh Rawlings’ simple but lush piano and soulful vocals of Michele Khazak, a special guest on the album. Nice brush work by D’Vonne Lewis, hope he gets to open up a bit as the album plays on. 3 minutes in, and no horn yet… interesting. Jason was right, this is a tribute to Nick, no ego, love it. Really nice tone on Evan Flory-Barnes’ bass. Ahhh 3:40 there’s Jason’s horn. Full tones, fits in really nicely with the piece.

River Man – Mood. This is a headphones, eyes closed, Bourbon in hand kind of piece. Really nice, minimal arrangement… damn that bass really comes through. D’Vonne’s playing the drums like they’re a MUSICAL instrument, always appreciated. Second guest on the album, Cynthia Mullis on tenor sax makes an appearance with Jason’s horn. Nice airy tenor solo, with range! Really like Josh’s piano following Cynthia’s solo flurry. I have to say these players really fit together like a fur-lined wave of lush on this track.

Three Hours – Getting a “Miles supported by the band” vibe on this, don’t really know what that means either, but it’s the feeling I get. Damn, opening up all over this one… then back down to earth. The first instrumental of the album.

Way To Blue – Always open with the drummer, at least that’s what I say! :-) A kind of strange melancholy yet upbeat tune, hard to explain. D’Vonne’s all over this like a madman! Jason’s solo really cutting through the din on this. Doesn’t swing so much as drive… then they apply the breaks, then it swings. Really, really enjoy the sculpted feel of this.

Day is Done – I have to admit I’ve heard this before… I mean as a backer I got an early preview of this tune; membership has it’s privileges. This one is a really approachable cut. Swings like a mo-fo, Cynthia’s Michele’s a tremendous choice for vocals on this whole album so far. Note to self: need to find more of her, and/or move to Seattle and hear her live. (Jason pointed out my mistake (Michele Khazak on vocals not Cynthia Mullis) It was late, what can I say?)

Cello Song – Getting an early 70’s Ramsey Lewis meets Joe Farrell vibe from this… Cello!?!?!? No, bowed bass Mike… Second instrumental, open, airy.

The Thoughts of Mary Jane – Bossa Nova cool, complete with flute! A touch of cheese, but a fine cheese… damn what’s that tune you just referenced at the end of the song Jason!?!?! That’ll haunt me for days now. :-)

Man In A Shed – Tight guys, really tight. D’Vonne opening up again on this one… what can I say, I’m a recovering drummer, and I notice.

Fruit Tree – Really nice changes in this one, lush, full sound.

Saturday Sun – Opens with a gospel-esque piano. Nice clean, contemplative after the full-on sound of Fruit Tree. Just piano & horn, a combo you don’t hear all that much outside of rehearsals, anything more would have mucked it up. A nice, after-hours feel to end the album.

If it wasn’t almost 4am I’d listen through the whole album again, that should tell you something.

I purposely did not listen to the original Nick Drake “Five Leaves Left” album before this. I really wanted to hear the JPQ version with a clean palate, and not let any of that “I can’t believe they did THAT to this song” stuff cloud my listening. I did however listen to Nick Drakes “Day is Done” recently since I had heard the early release of JPQ’s version, and I have to say, while definitely different, it’s a substantial tribute that remains faithful to the original without being a chained down by it.

My overall first reaction is that I really enjoyed the album as a whole, and I’m glad I could help out, in the small way I could in getting Jason’s vision down on tape (did you even use tape?). That being said, other than getting this early release I get no benefit, financial or otherwise if you go BUY THIS ALBUM NOW!