For years, Jeff Parker embedded his chiseled guitar leads within the sophisticated post-rock of Tortoise and played in audacious jazz-oriented ensembles like the Chicago Underground Duo. But instead of continuing forward with either of these projects, he opted to take his first solo steps on 2013’s Slight Freedom, a debut in which he found himself still working out the new contours of his aesthetic. With Forfolks, his second solo guitar outing, Parker emerges with a record that perfectly bridges those past incarnations – a guitar album for jazz fusion fans that’s also ripe for devouring by indie rock devotees.
Forfolks is composed entirely of loops from the wispy bits of Parker’s guitar tone and his pedals. This concept is far from revolutionary, but Parker is one of those players who makes the familiar feel new again. The basic premise is simple, but the results are spellbinding, creating discrete musical worlds that evoke the ethereal quality of ambient music.
As he compiles his loops and melodies, Parker creates one-man-band duets that take on a variety of shapes: “Off Om” is a delicate fingerpicked crackle, while “Excess Success” unfolds slowly as a thick cloud of drone. His take on two jazz classics – the standard “My Ideal” and Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” – are the most straight-ahead renditions on the album, but still possess a slippery, shifting quality that make them wonderfully unique and gorgeous.
Throughout Forfolks, Parker’s playing is a marvel of texture, with delicate sound washing over the core of each piece, spidery notes that echo and spin off into a dreamy fog. The songs blur together with a fluidity that makes it hard to discern where one ends and the next begins. It’s a seamless listen and an impressive display of technique, but what really elevates Forfolks is how Parker uses these techniques to make music that’s captivating even when it isn’t easy to listen to.