Over 30 years ago, the late Sonny Sharrock recorded a solo album simply titled Guitar. This brief but captivating album gave us all the sound of a special talent who used his unorthodox guitar playing (he initially wanted to be a saxophonist) in combination with studio trickery such as loops and overdubs. The borders between jazz and rock melted away, and the electric guitar was handed a bold new context from that point forward. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker‘s solo album Slight Freedom is poised to achieve the very same legendary status as Sharrock’s Guitar. The cover is adorned with a black and white photo of the artist at work—just like on Guitar. The running time is 37-plus minutes—just as it is on Guitar. Details, details, yes, but Slight Freedom is also the guitar album fringe-jazz listeners have been waiting for patiently.
If I can fault Slight Freedom for one thing, it’s that it’s a vinyl release. This isn’t to suggest that vinyl is inferior—because it’s not—but to suggest that this music will enjoy limited exposure. This is unfortunate because there is precious little out there that sounds like Slight Freedom, especially in the world’s ever-growing “jazz” collective. Sure, Parker may play a smooth, boppy melody on a song like “Super Rich Kids”, but it’s shrouded in an irresistible ambient murk. “Mainz” turns Parker’s hypnotic guitar feedback into the main attraction halfway through its 12-minute length. The 11-minute title track is rhythmically driven by a looping, popping sound, something not too far removed from a racquetball bouncing off a hardwood floor. Even the spaciest Tortoise tracks are insufficient in preparing for what awaits you on Slight Freedom.
The name Slight Freedom sounds like a misnomer at first. After all, this is the sound of a seasoned guitarist enjoying every bit of freedom afforded to him, to the point where the record belongs on the number one spot in a melding, heavily-hyphenated genre unto itself. But when I think about the word slight, I’m reminded that the vinyl format imposes some limitations. Slight Freedom comes with two songs per side, and even a wizard such as Parker has to keep an eye on the timer when weaving together his unprecedented textures. He has forced himself to experiment without indulging. Not everyone can do that, let alone do it well. What places Jeff Parker into a league unto himself is the fact that he can turn that paradox into an album that is just as enjoyable as it is adventurous. That fact that he released Slight Freedom within the same calendar year as the fun and funky The New Breed is further proof that Parker is a rare talent, and that his solo flights are a rarer thing still. If there is any remaining justice at all in the music world, Slight Freedom will be released in more formats so that it may be enjoyed thirty years from now the way Sharrock’s Guitar is still enjoyed today.
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