Aaron Parks / Ben Street / Billy Hart

Find the Way

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Arborescence, pianist Aaron Parks' 2013 debut for ECM, was a solo record showcasing 11 improvised pieces recorded at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. Find the Way, his trio debut for the label, is its opposite, a collection of eight originals and one cover (the title track) that all rely heavily on assonant harmonic exchanges and intimate but dynamic interplay with drummer Billy Hart and bassist Ben Street; they open these compositions up with an uncommon breathability. The rhythm section is well acquainted, having worked together on three albums by the drummer, including his two ECM outings All Our Reasons (2012) and One Is the Other (2014). This set was cut over three days in 2015 in a studio in the south of France. Since his mid-twenties, Parks has revealed a canny sense of melodic, spatial, and tonal inventions, but the most remarkable aspect of this date is how Hart is the hub in the wheel of each tune. Amid wide chordal statements and elliptical lyric sentiments that open the field in first track "Adrift," Hart's double-times snare, hi-hat, and cymbal work add considerable drama and weight as Street holds the middle ground between the poles. "Hold Music" spends its first minute as a drum solo, with circular patterns on tom-toms before Street's pulsing line and Parks' dark chords enter the frame. Hart dances around his kit, allowing cymbal flourishes to underscore the modal melody. Street's moment comes during "The Storyteller" as he equates the pianist's romantic post-bop lyricism with Hart's syncopations by playing on both. His woody tone and melodic richness offer an expanded sense of dimensionality. The tune "Alice" was composed after the influence of Alice Coltrane's "Ptah, the El Daoud." The modal sequence is based on crossing rhythmic principles, which in turn create new lyric possibilities. They flirt with the outside but never quite arrive there, instead maintaining a mysterious but defined sense of spiritual swing. The closing title track is a cover by Ian Brennan that resonated with the pianist after hearing it on an LP by Rosemary Clooney and Nelson Riddle. The melody's bittersweet tenderness is made all the more poignant by Hart's brushwork highlighting Parks' and Street's spectral yet pervasive romanticism. On Find the Way, this piano trio offers subtle and innovative shifts between the interconnected relationships of its members, but delivers what is ultimately a songlike collection.

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