LIVE: Aaron Parks’ Little Big @ The Falcon, 04/17/2022

I’ve been relatively devil-may-care as far as COVID goes. While I’m vaxed and boosted up to my eyeballs, I’ve also preferred cloth gaiters to N95 masks and had no trepidation about walking into small jazz clubs or riding the subway in NYC. That said, fear of COVID did keep me away from last year’s return of “Jazz at The Lake” (aka Lake George Jazz Weekend) – this despite the fact that one of my favorite new groups, Aaron Parks’ Little Big, was on the bill. Thankfully, I got my fix on Easter Sunday at The Falcon.

Parks’ towering growth curve has been on my radar since he first showed up in the greatest jazz band I’ve ever seen, Terence Blanchard’s Flow. The Aaron Parks brought onstage by Lee Falco is a long way from those days, but in a really good way. With maturity comes wisdom, and while Parks was always a riveting composer (Blanchard still uses Parks’ “Harvesting Dance” as his theme song), the music he’s released on both the group’s eponymous first disc and on Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man is both beautiful and wise.

Parks played tracks from both releases at the Falcon, backed by guitarist Greg Touhey, drummer Tommy Crane, and bassist Matt Brewer. (Brewer wasn’t on either disc, but he does play on an upcoming indie release Parks recorded with fellow Blanchard alum Eric Harland.) Before kicking things off with “The Ongoing Pulse of Isness” he grinned at us from behind tinted glasses and declared, “It’s Easter, and Passover, and Ramadan, and you’re here…so you must be a bunch of heathens!”

Listening to Parks and Tuohey play together is magical – and when I say “together”, I’m being quite literal: On multiple tracks, the two players fly in musical formation, creating a harmony that makes you want to just sit down in the grass and pick daisies. Parks’ solos are as beautiful and well-crafted as ever, bringing a meditative quality to each piece; stack Tuohey’s bell-like guitar on top of some of those lines, and believing in Nirvana is a legitimate exercise.

Tuohey did break away from Parks to rip off some righteous solos of his own, as did Brewer, and Crane’s drums gave each piece the body and purpose that it needed, be it loud or light. At the end of the day, though, most of their moves were dedicated to supporting the composition itself, as if they were telling a very detailed story and the primary task was to get the details right.  Details like “Siren” and “Rising Son” from the first disc, like “Isness” and “Friendo” from Mechanical Man, and a new untitled piece. “First time bringing that out in public”, Parks informed us. All of them have this incredible crystalline quality that acts as a bed for Parks’ exquisite keyboard work, which has only gained depth and heft with each passing year.

Parks prefaced “Small Planet” by saying, “It’s definitely really strange to be here without Tony.” He talked about all the times he’d played here, and how he was watching John Medeski out on the deck last year when his wife went into labor; he also thanked Lee for keeping the Falcon going strong. After a well-deserved encore, Parks quite sincerely told us, “Please take care of yourselves and one another.” There’s a lesson we can all learn, including the serially devil-may-care.

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

1 Comment
  1. James says

    “the greatest jazz band I’ve ever heard, Terence Blanchard’s Flow”.
    I love Terence and still listen to “The Heart Speaks” 25 years later. I stopped reading after the above sentence.

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