2nd pressing now available!
-Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy-, x2 LPs of long-form, lyrical, groove-based free improv by acclaimed guitarist & composer Jeff Parker's ETA IVtet is at last here. Recorded live at ETA (referencing David Foster Wallace), a bar in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood with just enough space in the back for Parker, drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Anna Butterss, & alto saxophonist Josh Johnson to convene in extraordinarily depthful & exploratory music making. Gleaned for the stoniest side-length cuts from 10+ hours of vivid two-track recordings made between 2019 & 2021 by Bryce Gonzales, -Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy- is a darkly glowing séance of an album, brimming over with the hypnotic, the melodic, & patience & grace in its own beautiful strangeness. Room-tone, electric fields, environment, ceiling echo, live recording, Mondays, Los Angeles. Jeff Parker's first double album & first live album, -Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy- belongs in the lineage of such canonical live double albums recorded on the West Coast as Lee Morgan’s -Live at the Lighthouse-, Miles Davis' -In Person Friday & Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco- & -Black Beauty-, & John Coltrane's -Live in Seattle-.
While the IVtet sometimes plays standards &, including on this recording, original compositions, it is as previously stated largely a free improv group —just not in the genre meaning of the term. The music is more free composition than free improvisation, more blending than discordant. It’s tensile, yet spacious & relaxed. Clearly all four musicians have spent significant time in the planetary system known as jazz, but relationships to other musics, across many scenes & eras —dub & Dilla, primary source psychedelia, ambient & drone— suffuse the proceedings. listening to playbacks Parker remarked, humorously & not, “we sound like the Byrds” (to certain ears, the Clarence White-era Byrds, who really stretched it).
A fundamental of all great ensembles, whether basketball teams or bands, is the ability of each member to move fluidly & fluently in & out of lead & supportive roles. Building on the communicative pathways they’ve established in Parker’s -The New Breed- project, Parker & Johnson maintain a constant dialogue of lead & support. Their sampled & looped phrases move continuously thru the music, layered & alive, adding depth & texture & pattern, evoking birds in formation, sea creatures drifting below the photic zone. Or, the two musicians simulate those processes by entwining their terse, clear-lined playing in real-time. The stop/start flow of Bellerose, too, simulates the sampler, recalling drum parts in Parker’s beat-driven projects. Mostly Bellerose's animated phraseologies deliver the inimitable instantaneous feel of live creative drumming. The range of tonal colors he conjures from his extremely vintage battery of drums & shakers —as distinctive a sonic signature as we have in contemporary acoustic drumming— bring almost folkloric qualities to the aesthetic currency of the IVtet's language. A wonderful revelation in this band is the playing of Anna Butterss. The strength, judiciousness & humility with which she navigates the bass position both ground & lift upward the egalitarian group sound. As the IVtet's grooves flow & clip, loop & repeat, the ensemble elements reconfigure, a terrarium of musical cultivation growing under controlled variables, a tight experiment of harmony & intuition, deep focus & freedom.
For all its varied sonic personality, -Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy- scans immediately & unmistakably as music coming from Jeff Parker‘s unique sound world. Generous in spirit, trenchant & disciplined in execution, Parker’s music has an earned respect for itself & for its place in history that transmutes through the musical event into the listener. Many moods & shapes of heart & mind will find utility & hope in a music that combines the autonomy & the community we collectively long to see take hold in our world, in substance & in staying power.
On the personal tip, this was always my favorite gig to hit, a lifeline of the eremite records Santa Barbara years. Mondays southbound on the 101, driving away from tasks & screens & illness, an hour later ordering a double tequila neat at the bar with the band three feet away, knowing i was in good hands, knowing it would be back around on another Monday. To encounter life at scales beyond the human body is the collective dance of music & the beholding of its beauty, together. —Michael Ehlers & Zac Brenner
Pressed on premium audiophile-quality 120 gram vinyl at RTI from Kevin Gray / Cohearent Audio lacquers. Mastered by Joe Lizzi, Triple Point Records, Queens, NY. First eremite edition of 1799 copies. First 400 direct order LPs come with eremite’s signature retro-audiophile inner-sleeves, hand screen-printed by Alan Sherry, Siwa Studios, northern New Mexico. CD edition & EU x2LP edition available thru our EU partner, Aguirre records, Belgium.
Jeff Parker synthesizes jazz and hip-hop with an appealingly light touch. The longtime Tortoise guitarist has a silken, clean-cut tone, yet his production takes more cues from DJ Premier than it does from a classic mid-century jazz sound. In the early ’00s, when Madlib ushered a boom-bap sensibility into the hallowed halls of the jazz label Blue Note, Parker conducted his own experiments in genre-mashing in the Chicago group Isotope 217, dragging jaunty hip-hop rhythms into the far reaches of computerized abstraction. More recently, Parker enlivened quantized beats and chopped-up samples with live instrumentation, both as leader of the New Breed and sideman to Makaya McCraven. Inverting rap’s longtime reverence for jazz, Parker has gradually codified a new language for the so-called “American art form” with a vocabulary gleaned from the United States’ next great contribution to the musical universe.
Parker’s latest, the live double LP Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy, was largely recorded in 2019, while his star as a solo artist was steeply ascending. Capturing a few intimate evenings with drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Anna Butterss, and New Breed saxophonist Josh Johnson at ETA, a cozy Los Angeles cocktail bar, the record anticipates his 2020 opus with the New Breed, Suite for Max Brown. Yet Mondays amounts to something novel in 2022: It lays out long-form spiritual jazz, knotty melodies, and effortless solos over a slow-moving foundation as consistent as an 808. The results are as mesmerizing as a luxurious, beatific ambient record—yet at the same time, it’s clear that all of this is happening within the inherently messy confines of an improvisatory concert.
Across four side-long tracks, each spanning about 20 minutes, Parker and Johnson trade ostinatos, mesh together, split again into polyrhythmic call-and-response. Butterss commands the pocket with a photonegative of their lead lines, often freed from rhythmic responsibilities by the drums’ relentlessness. Bellerose exhibits a Neu!-like sense of consistency, just screwed down a whole bunch of BPMs. His kit sounds as dusty as an old sample, and his hypnotic rhythms evoke humanizers of the drum machine such as J Dilla or RZA. You could spend the album’s 84-minute runtime listening only to the beats; every shift in pattern queues a new movement in the compositions, beaming a timeframe from the bottom up. Bellerose’s sensitive, reactive playing, though, is unmistakably live. We can practically see the sweat beading on his arm when he holds steady on a ride cymbal for minutes on end, or plays a shaker for a whole LP side.
He begins the understated opener “2019-07-08 I” with feather-soft brush swirls, but on the second cut, he sets Mondays’ stride, as a simple bell pattern builds into a leisurely rhythmic stroll. Thirteen minutes in, the mood breaks. Bellerose hits some heavy quarter notes on his hi-hat; Butterss leans into a fat bassline; saxophone arpeggios, probably looped, float in front of us like smoke rings lingering in the air. It’s a glorious moment, punctuated by clinking glasses and a distant “whoo!” so perfectly placed we become aware of not only the setting, but also the supple knob-turns of engineer Bryce Gonzales in post-production. Anyone who’s heard great improvisation at a bar in the company of both jazzheads and puzzled onlookers knows this dynamic—for some, the music was incidental. Others experienced a revelation.
Lodged in this familiar situation is the question of what such “ambient jazz” means to accomplish—whether it wants to occupy the center of our consciousnesses, or resign itself to the background. The record’s perpetual soloing offers an answer. Never screechy, grating, or aggressive, each performance is nonetheless highly individual. Even when the quartet settles into an extended groove, a spotlight shines on Johnson, Butterss, and Parker in turn, steadily illuminating a perpetual sense of invention. Their interplay feels almost traditional, suggesting bandstand trade-offs of yore, yet the open-ended structure of their jams keeps it unconventional.
Mondays works in layers: Its metronomic rhythms pacify, but the performers and their idiosyncratic expressions offer ample material to those interested in hearing young luminaries and seasoned vets swap ideas within a group. In 2020, Johnson dropped his first record under his own name, the excellent, daringly melodic Freedom Exercise, while Butterss’ recent debut as bandleader, Activities, is one of the most exciting, undersung jazz releases of 2022. Akin to Parker’s early experiments with Tortoise and Chicago Underground, Johnson and Butterss’ recordings both revel in electronic textures, and each features the other as a collaborator. Mondays captures them as their mature playing styles gain sea legs atop the rudder of Parker’s guitar.
The only track recorded after the pandemic began, closer “2021-04-28” sculpts the record’s loping structure, giving retrospective shape to the preceding hour of ambience. In the middle of the song, Parker’s guitar slows to a yawn; the drums pipe down. After a couple minutes of drone, Bellerose slips back into the mix alongside a precisely phrased guitar line strummed on the upper frets, punctuated by saxophone accents that exclaim with the force of an eager hype man. Beginning with a murmur, the album ends with a bracing statement, a passage so articulated that it actually feels spoken.
Mondays drifts with unhurried purpose through genres and ideas, imprinted with the passage of time. The deliberate, thumping clock of its drumbeat keeps duration in mind, and, as with so many live albums, we’re reminded of how circumstances have changed since the sessions were recorded. Truly, life is different than it was in 2019—and not just in terms of world politics, climate change, the threat of disease, or the reality that making a living in music is harder than ever. Seemingly catalyzed by COVID-19’s deadly, isolating scourge, jazz has transformed, hybridized, and weakened tired arguments for musical stratification and fundamentalism. Even calling Mondays a “live” album is a simplification, considering how Parker and other top jazz brains have increasingly availed themselves of the studio—including, in a sparing yet dramatic way, on Mondays.
Near the end of the first track, the tape slows abruptly. The plane of the song opens to another dimension: This set, Parker seems to be saying, can be manipulated with the ease of a vinyl platter beneath a DJ’s fingers. Parker’s latest may be his first live album, but it’s also the product of a mad scientist, cackling over a mixing board. Time is dilated, curated, edited, and intercut, and the very live-ness of a concert recording turns fascinatingly, fruitfully convoluted—even when the artists responsible are four players participating in the age-old custom of jamming together in a room. --Daneil Felsenthal, Pitchfork, 8.4 Best New Music
Turn to Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy and you’re in another world. Recorded live (it’s apparently Parker’s first live record) between 2019 and 2021 at a bar in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood that’s named for the principal setting of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest(and Parker’s ETA 4tet named, in turn, for the room). As producer Michael Ehlers points out in a press sheet, It is “largely a free improv group —just not in the genre meaning of the term.” Mondays… will include all the things that free improvisation leaves out, modes, melodies, key centres and regular (though often multiple) rhythms; in effect, the musicians are free to include the conventionally excluded.
It’s a kind of perfect opposite of Eastside Romp – clear tunes rarely define a piece, there’s no solo order, actually few solos, no formal beginnings or endings – instead substituting the extended jam for the tight knit composition. It’s a two-LP set, each side an excerpt from a long collective improvisation, a kind of electronic jazz version of hypnotic minimalism with Parker and saxophonist Josh Johnson both employing loops to build up interlocking rhythmic patterns and a kind of floating, layered timelessness, while bassist Anna Butterss and drummer/ percussionist Jay Bellerose lay down pliable fundamentals.
Often and delightfully, it answers this listener’s specific auditory needs, a bright shifting soundscape that can begin in mid-phrase and eventually fade away, not beginning, not ending, like Heaven’s Muzak or the abstract decorative art of the Alhambra. It can sound at times like, fifty years on, Grant Green has added his clear lines to the kind of work that over 50 years ago filtered from Terry Riley to musicians from jazz, rock and minimalism. Though the tunes are described as excerpts, we often have what seem to be beginnings, the faint sound of background conversation and noise ceding to the music in the first few seconds, but the “beginnings” sound tentative, like proposals or suggestions. The most explicit tune here is the slow, loping line passed back and forth between Parker and Johnson that initiates Side C, 2019 May-05-19, the earliest recording here.
The music is a constant that doesn’t mind omitting its beginnings and ends, but it’s also, in the same way, an organism, a kind of music that many of us are always inside and that is always inside us. All kinds of music stimulate us in all kinds of ways, but for this listener, Jeff Parker’s ETA Quartet happily raises a fundamental question: what is comfort music, what are its components, and could there be a universal comfort music? Or is comfort music a universal element in what we may listen for in sound? Modality, rhythmic and melodic figures/motifs, drone, compound relationships and, too, a shifting mosaic that cannot be encapsulated? The thing is, any music we seek out is, in our seeking, a comfort, whether it’s a need for structures so complex that we might lose ourselves in mapping them, or music so random, we are freed of all specificity, but something that may have healing properties.
This is not just bar music, but music for a bar named for art that further echoes in the band’s abbreviated name. Socialization is enshrined here. There’s another crucial fiction, too, maybe closer, The Scope, the bar in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 with its “strictly electronic music policy”. Consider, too, the social roots reverberating in the distant musical ancestry, that Riley session with John Cale, Church of Anthrax, among many … or the healing music of the Gnawa … or the Master Musicians of Jajouka with Ornette Coleman on Dancing in Your Head. And that which is most “natural” to us in the early decades of the 21st century? … Jamming, looping, drones…So perhaps an ideal musical state might be a regular Monday night session with guitar, saxophone, loops, bass and drums…the guitarist and saxophonist using loops, expanding the palette and multiplying the reach of time, repeating oneself with the possibility of mutation or constancy. In some long ago, perfect insight into a burgeoning age of filming and recording, Jay Gatsby remarked, “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!”
We might even repeat the present or the future. --Stuart Broomer, freejazzblog.org
released October 28, 2022
Jay Bellerose: drums & percussion
Anna Butterss: bass
Josh Johnson: alto saxophone & pedals
Jeff Parker: electric guitar & pedals
recorded: Los Angeles, ETA
producers: Parker & Michael Ehlers
engineer: Bryce Gonzales
photographs: Robbie Jeffers