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Review | Jeff Parker’s jazz sounds cool, enlightening and utterly real

It all starts with Jeff Parker combing a three-note elliptical pattern out of his electric guitar strings until the adjacent blah-blahs finally flash, which happens quickly because it’s a Monday night and the looky-loos are all home watching Netflix. But in this room, Parker’s audience is clearly the nightlife’s most devoted citizens, and once their conversations quieten down, several glasses and bottles continue to pop from behind the bar, sending some kind of Morse-coded announcement about veracity: The jazz you’re about to hear really happened somewhere.

Thus begins Parker’s fantastic new live double album, “Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy,” the title of which refers to the Los Angeles cocktail bar in Highland Park where it was recorded on select Monday nights in 2019 and 2021. As for the bar’s name, it’s a nod to the setting of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” but don’t let that distract you too much. The most important word in the album title is ‘Monday’. It not only explains the attentive calm of the audience, but also indicates the sense of calmness, renewal, foresight and getting back to work of this music.

And while these fluid, flexible, groove-minded improvisations hardly ever feel labored, Parker is working here. A longtime member of the Chicago post-rock band Tortoise, the 55-year-old guitarist has long known how to create indelible melodies as if encountering them, posting a song’s defining characteristics as the result of effortless concentration. With this band – drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Anna Butterss, saxophonist Josh Johnson, collectively dubbed the ETA IVtet – Parker’s playing feels as clear as ever, drawing crisp, clean lines over thoughtful driving rhythms. His ‘work’ is not about sweat, struggle or urgency, but about keeping calm, problem solving and measured collective progress. Which work style sounds more heroic to you these days?

There’s plenty of play in this music, too, though, and it comes to the fore when Parker or Johnson begin their copycat games, sending melody lines back and forth until the repetition begins to blot out the clock. In an interview with Amoeba Records in San Francisco this year, Parker explained his affection for Elements, an ’80s jazz fusion group that “gets into this kind of repetitive space… which I can’t really get enough of.” Can’t get enough of something that never runs out? Sounds like a good deal. Of course, it is also available to us in Parker’s work. Repetition doesn’t have to be a redundancy that exhausts us. It can be endlessness that enlivens us.

Which brings us back to Highland Park, where this music originally unfolded in a precise package of space over a few finite blocks of time. The funny thing is that neither space nor time are really fixed. This bar may have an address, but it’s still stuck on a planet that’s constantly being tossed around an expanding universe. As for those Monday nights, they became endlessly replayable with the creation of these recordings, putting replays into replays. In other words, the incomprehensibility of space-time can feel small and Monday night can last forever. Plink-plink-plink. The jazz you just heard really happened somewhere and is still happening.

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