Aaron Parks' previous album Invisible Cinema was a collection of vignettes created and performed to construct scenes from films unmade, providing the tension and sonic textures to allow the listener to imagine their own visuals. Arborescence, his 2013 release, takes that approach a step further with a thematic series of compositions centered around trees, forests, and nature.
The 11 pieces are solo piano compositions with infrequent, barely audible wordless vocalizations buried in the mix, all of which are more about ambiance, emotion, and atmosphere than complex key signatures, adventurous arrangements, or intellectual experiments. Fans of more demanding jazz may not find this an exciting approach but it would be wrong to dismiss this as elevator music or smooth jazz. There are impressive runs suggesting at command beyond what Parks displays, elevating the song above proof of virtuosity. Liberal use of the sustain and/or Sostenuto pedals drench these songs, adding another layer to the intended thematic sound.
"Asleep In The Forest" and "Toward Awakening" open the record. As the title suggests, "Asleep" is an evocative, nocturnal soundscape, filled with viscous sounds of dreams. "Toward Awakening" is hardly a bright, sunny counterpoint to the preceding piece but a connection exists between the moody "Asleep" and dramatic "Awakening." "In Pursuit" captures the feeling of a chase, with insistent, pounding, repetitive chords feeling like footsteps closing in from behind, lost in an exotic and mysterious place.
Parks' approach to performance and composition conjures the work of multiple Academy Award-nominee Thomas Newman and his great scores. He is an aural storyteller who provides both compelling narratives and compelling emotional contexts and Arborescence makes for a great visual listen.