Jeff Parker - Forfolks
Released - December 2021
Label - International Anthem
The discovery of Jeff Parker’s latest album ‘Forfolks’ has re-ignited in me a spirit of musical discovery that I had feared long past. The project, consisting of 8 original compositions and standards, has proven that in the modern age, there remains an ability to perform and translate folk and jazz in a way that I have not heard or felt since my initial discoveries upon the guitarist’s rite of passage. The wonderfully complex folk jazz blues of John Renbourn, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and John Martyn fundamentally changed me as a person and a musician, but I had come to the conclusion that such works could only have been created in periods of spiritual fertility, which we have been sorely denied for too many years now.
A branch-off discovery during this burst of inspiration was Sandy Bull, a little-known but pivotal contributor to the form, revered for his use of middle eastern instruments and live tape looping in the early 60’s - pre-empting and inspiring the techniques of the soon to follow Psychedelic movement. It is here, to these unique takes on the traditional use of the guitar that I return to when discussing ‘Forfolks’.
I confess that I was only vaguely aware of Jeff Parker’s work prior to this project, and was surprised to discover that he had been a member of the group ‘Tortoise’ - who I absolutely am familiar with. In ways, I can connect Parker’s current solo output to the undeniably ‘progressively ambient’ rhythmic work of Tortoise, yet true to its name ‘Forfolks’ also induces instant imagery of the great folk revival clubs of the 60s, and I would venture to assume that most if not all of it was recorded live.
After revisiting Parker’s prior works released through the pioneering Chicago label International Anthem I can see his personal evolution through jazz, and yet it is here on ‘Forfolks’ that I find him to be most authentically performing it. The whole project reads as a myriad of feelings, steeped in joy, sorrow and expressed deftly through improvisation. On track 3 - a cover of the Chet Baker classic ‘My Ideal’, Parker plays with waning fidelity to the beat in the true jazz style. The pregnant sustained chords that are skipped towards by runs can also be heard on track 6, a similar take on Thelonious Monk’s ‘Ugly Beauty'. The rest of the project, however, is a treat of volume swells, loops, drones and vibratos creating grassroots ambiance, akin to the hours spent by budding guitarists alone in their rooms, bereft of pedals, obsessed with forming blissful soundscapes to improvise over. The project closes with a track called 'La Jetée', one assumes inspired by the heartbreaking short film. Whether it is an improvised accompaniment to the film, or perhaps a take on some of its original soundtrack’s devastating moments I have yet to deduce, but the inspiration to re-watch the film and reconsider its concepts is a fine and sincere way to end a project.
What sweet memories and emotions this project has awakened in me. It has proven that there are others who still feel the true form in their hearts and are able to breathe new life into it, providing solace for those molded by art’s great traditions, who may at times find it hard to truly connect with its contemporary exponents.