Somehow, Jeff Parker manages flow through all these incarnations without copping a dilettante's superficiality. He applies the same depth of musicality and keen ear for quality to everything he does, which is part of what has made him one of the most sought-out musicians in the Windy City. Another part of that appeal, it must be said, is Parker's immense generosity and warm humility, the latter of which perhaps explains why he's only made one other CD as a "leader," the acclaimed trio outing Like Coping, released on Delmark in 2003.
Founded in 1995, The Relatives is a quartet of like-minded musicians drawn from the Chicago Underground Orchestra. Parker's been working with bassist Chris Lopes since college days, when they were at Berklee together in Boston in the mid-80s. Drummer Chad Taylor, who recently moved back to New York after a fruitful period in Chicago, has been a colleague of Parker's since just after the guitarist moved to Chicago in 1991. The newest comrade, Sam Barsheshet, who plays electric piano on the record, sat in on a gig with Parker in 2002. "I enjoyed his playing and open conception," says Parker.
Parker says this session, which was waxed in January, 2004 at SOMA and engineered by John McEntire, is "more 'song- oriented' than the previous album, and less of a jazz- oriented 'blowing date.'" It includes original compositions by Taylor ("Istanbul") and Lopes ("Sea Change," "Bean Stalk,""Toy Boat"). Parker's own compositional contributions include "Mannerisms," a piece that's become a local standard, prized by various groups - Chicago Underground Quartet, Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls - for its sinuous, groovy lines. "Rang (for Michael Zerang)" is a piece written by Parker for his friend and colleague, percussionist Michael Zerang. "It was written when we were both on a tour of France with the Vega Trio, right at the start of the Iraq War."
"The Relative" was composed by Parker and bassist Matthew Lux, with whom the guitarist worked in Isotope 217, the band for whom it was originally conceived. "I decided to revive it for this recording," says Parker. "I composed the bulk of the tune, but the weird, twisty bassline that roots the intro and outro was composed by Matt Lux. The first two-and-a-half minutes of the tune are my attempt at demonstrating an abstraction of my perception of Relativity, which essentially means that as one moves in space, one's perception of said space is altered by one's movement. I tried to aurally capture this by having everyone perform various repeating figures on different tracks that start at one tempo, then ramp up or down to another tempo, and end together at the original tempo."