For his second album, Jeff Parker looked in many directions for inspiration. Here, electric pianist Sam Barsheshet joins frequent Parker collaborators Chris Lopes on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, who also comprised the rhythm section on his debut. But despite the presence of electric guitar and keyboard, this isn't a fusion album; a veteran of several of Chicago's unique improvising bands, Parker brings some of the improv aesthetic, an approach that updates Wes Montgomery and tones down Pat Martino.
Apart from a Marvin Gaye cover, The Relative features sinewy originals from the trio. The dramatic stylistic shifts — from the Middle Eastern moodiness of the opening "Istanbul" to the Beatles-inspired poppiness of "Mannerisms" to the Larry Coryell-esque "Sea Change" to the loungey slink of Gaye's "When Did You Stop Loving Me" — would be jarring if the musicians tried too hard. The medley of the title track and "Toy Boat," though, sets aside the accessibility and good humor of the rest of the album to make inroads towards the Chicago tradition of innovation. But mostly, the playing is reserved throughout, and the tracks are concise (some under four minutes), making The Relative a (mostly) easy, pleasing listen.