Whether with his post-rock outfit Tortoise or in more jazz-oriented groups like this trio, guitarist Jeff Parker has a zen-like quality of never “pushing the river” beyond its natural current. This style imparts a greater spatial context and a high sense of self-assurance to the nine originals (four by Parker, three by bassist Chris Lopes, two by drummer Chad Taylor) presented on Bright Light In Winter. This is the trio’s third album in nine years, and first since 2007, yet their verities remain: democratic interaction based on close listening and a sensitivity to texture and nuance, with shared values as to the balance between composition and improvisation and how much to dabble in electronic effects (just a pinch).
Furthering the zen analogy, Parker’s ego is dissolved in the band. Both he and Taylor share a prancing quality to their phrasing and a fondness for tonal shading that is ironically best exemplified on a Lopes tune, “Occidental Tourist.” Even a supposed rave-up like “Freakadelic” (which, contrary to the implications of its title, isn’t aiming to be funky), anchored by a marvelous drum lick from Taylor that becomes a vamp, turns out to be a savvy, understated blend of traditional African rhythm and surf-rock kitsch. There is one misstep: As with “Beanstalk” on the trio’s The Relatives CD, “The Morning of the 5th” features Lopes playing quavering, maudlin flute in a manner that recalls bad 1960s soundtracks. But that overwrought sentimentality is countered by Parker’s eloquent, heartfelt paean to his lover on the quiet closer, “Good Days.”