Friday, February 03, 2012

Jason Parker's Tribute To Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left

Seattle trumpeter Jason Parker was moved by the music of Nick Drake and produced Five Leaves Left: A Tribute to Nick Drake (BrokenTime Records) with his quartet of pianist Josh Rawlings, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes and drummer D’Vonne Lewis augmented by the tenor sax and flute of Cynthia Mullis and the vocals of Michele Khazak. This recording was a fan-supported Kickstarter project and for full disclosure, I was one those supporters.

Nick Drake is described in Wikipedia “an English singer-songwriter and musician, known for his sombre guitar-based songs.” While he had minimal commercial success, his music has touched many and in the near four decades since his death has become (again in the words of Wikipedia) “widely considered among the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years.” “Five Leaves Left” was the first of his three recordings and the music obviously touched Parker deeply. In his brief notes he writes that the music of “Five Leaves Left” is perfectly suited to his group. “The songs are fairly simple harmonically, which leaves us ample room to improvise and put our own stamp on them while remaining true to Nick’s original intent and feeling.” As a further matter of disclosure, I have never listened to Nick Drake’s originals, so I approach this album from someone not familiar with the original, although I plan to listen to Drake’s album shortly.

Parker in a conversation with me mentioned that the playing on this is deliberately restrained compared what might be heard on his other recordings. This restraint is evident in his own elegiac playing complemented by Rawlings, Flory-Barnes and Lewis and matched by the sober singing of Khazak resulting in the haunting performances of Time Has Told Me and River Man with Mullis’ tenor adding a contrasting voice to Parker’s brass whether on trumpet or flugelhorn. There is a mournful quality to the instrumental treatment of Three Hours with his mournful tone complemented by the adept rhythm section and Mullis’ blurry playing.

Way To Blue opens with lively stick work from Lewis to set the tone before Rawlings enters lyrically followed by a sober vocal and then Mullis’ aggressive tenor playing. Rawlings himself adds a lively, imaginative and graceful solo. Its little touches such as having Flory-Barnes bass accompany Khazak’s vocal to open Day Is Done that add to the ambience of the music here as well as the restraint generally exhibited. This is not to say there isn’t variety as on the rendition of The Thoughts Of Mary Jane, with a lively, latin-tinged performance with Mullis on flute to help state the theme before taking a solo on tenor sax followed by some of Parker’s livelier playing and then a flute solo. The album closes with several instrumentals with the last performance, Saturday Sun, a lovely, wistful duet between Parker and Rawlings.

The only downside of the restraint exhibited on this is that this might lessen the appeal to more casual listeners and those not familiar with the Nike Drake album. For these, I suggest listening to several tracks at a time as opposed to the entire recording. I have been listening to the this release from the time Parker first made the music available to his Kickstarter patrons as downloads at the end of March 2011. While I have not had the pleasure of seeing Parker perform, I have found his recordings continue to speak to me after repeated listenings. Parker has also documented the making of this release along with observations on the specific tracks and more at from which this may be purchased. It is also available from cdbaby baby, amazon and itunes.

As stated I am one of those who helped fund this recording. There are a variety of videos on Jason Parker's website on the CD's recording. Here is the Jason Parker Quartet performing another Nick Drake composition.

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