Gil Parris

Gil Parris & Friends
Irvington Town Hall Theatre, NY

Concert review by Roger-Z (01/26/07)
Appeared in More Sugar, February 2007, P. 14A

Sublime events defy definition. This year marks the confluence of so many great accomplishments for guitarist, composer Gil Parris -- the cd Strength, a signature Reverend guitar, a book including instructional CD for Mel Bay entitled "The Double Stop Guide, A Whole Music Approach for Guitar," and a four disc instructional CD-ROM for TrueFire called "Inside-out: Gil Parris." It all culminated with the recording of his forthcoming live CD and DVD at Irvington Town Tall Theatre featuring special guests Paul Schaffer, Randy Brecker, David Mann, Vaneese Thomas, Tommy "Pipes" McDonnell, and baseball great Bernie Williams.

You could feel the buzz in this soldout hometown audience. They came to see one of their own make good. Mr. Parris amazes on so many levels. First, he packed this 432 seat house even though he plays virtually every weekend in the area. Second, Mr. Parris possesses the unique gift of making the complex appear simple. He does not compromise or water down his music in any way. Dissonance does not deter him. His magic carries the audience through to the end of each journey. And finally, how the Hell does he manage to look so young?

The show opened with MC Carolyn Kepcher, best know for her work on "The Apprentice." She shared stories of working the late shift as a waitress at a Westchester bar called John Richards where Parris used to play. Not only did she enjoy his music, but he always made money for the staff. How's that, Mr. Trump! She too remains amazed at Parris' boyish good looks and revealed how he just got carded at a bar out at the NAMM convention in California.

The house band (consisting of longtime stalwarts Kip Sophos on bass, Matt King on keyboards, and Thierry Arpino on drums) kicked the show off with the atmospheric, Parris composition, "When Love Was New," from his eponymous BMG debut. The strong melody led to an inspired Parris solo notable for descending guitar figures and a touch of the Pat Metheny sound.

Next, Mr. Parris brought out saxophonist Dave Mann who co-produced Parris' most recent CD, "Strength." They played a funky Mann composition entitled, "Ostinato," with long melodic lines and a great bass riff. Mr. Mann took us on a slightly dissonant journey but got us back home safely. After Parris' solo, Mr. Arpino brought the house down with an astounding drum solo that continued right through the full band playing.

"It's a Lie," another Parris song from his BMG release, followed. This sultry ballad featured an inspired, Latin-tinged keyboard solo with an overall sound remimiscent of Weather Report.

Suddenly, Paul Shaffer (from The Letterman Show) stepped onto the stage and surprised Mr. Parris. After a little banter, Mr. Shaffer introduced the next tune as something similar in feel to Jimmy Smith's "The Cat." He sat down at the Hammond Organ and they launched into the soulful "Duck Walk" from Parris' latest record. What a funkmeister! Who knew? Shaffer had the crowd going crazy, even more so when the whole front band line started trading licks.

Parris then brought out singer Vaneese Thomas for a smooth jazz rendition of the Bread chestnut, "Make It with You." Thomas made a believer out of me, especially with her vocal improv at the end. Parris shined on a tasty solo composed of double stops and soaring single lines.

To close the first set, Mr. Parris sat on a stool, pulled out a beautiful Carvin acoustic guitar and performed a delicious jazz opening to his tune "Commitment" from the Strength CD. The band joined in with Parris chiming away on rhythm guitar. So ended the first set.

After a half hour break, the show resumed in a more informal fashion. Amidst numerous shouts of "bass solo" from the crowd, MC Kepcher once again introduced Mr. Parris along with surprise guest, baseball great Bernie Williams on guitar. They took a moment to set up Williams with Parris' rose tattooed Stratocaster. Parris reached for his new signature model Reverend guitar. The crowd cracked up when Parris kept searching his pockets and the stage for a pick! Finally, the band hit the stage and started "Soul Jam." I read that Williams liked to strum the guitar in the Yankee's locker room. But who knew he could really play? He gave Parris a nice run for his money while soloing and exchanging riffs.

Next up, jazz great Randy Brecker on trumpet. I remember him from the first Blood, Sweat and Tears album! On a sad note, Mr. Parris dedicated this concert to the memory of Mr. Brecker's saxophonist brother, Michael, who recently passed away from Leukemia. Mr. Brecker made this his first appearance since the tragedy. Parris grabbed another beautiful guitar and they launched into "Blue Thumb," the title song of Parris' tribute album to Wes Montgomery. After some suave octave and single note guitar playing, Brecker took over and built his solo to a mighty, screaming, high note crescendo. Keyboardist Matt King stood out with his suggestive, Latin touch.

A crowd favorite, "The Chack," came next. Parris dedicated the song to his friend, vocalist Billy Vera, who loves this groove -- an up tempo, country two-beat. Imagine Jimmy Smith's "Chicken Shack" played over the rhythm of "Got My Mojo Working." This song gave Mr. Parris the chance to showcase his infamous "pedal steel on acid" and "bubble wrap popping" licks.

At this point, Parris told the story of how he first recorded "Rainy Night In Georgia." He originally contracted with Michael McDonald to sing the tune. Parris went into the studio to cut the track and used Tommy McDonnell for a scratch vocal. As things turned out, McDonald just signed a new record deal to do his Motown sound albums and wouldn't be able do the song. However, when he heard the recording, he told Parris to keep the awesome scratch vocal. So out to the stage comes Tommy "Pipes" McDonnell. After a long keyboard intro, they burst into "Georgia." Unfortunately, at this the point, food poisoning and the flu got the best of me. I turned green and had to leave. What a disappointment!

I admire Gil Parris on so many levels. Making it as an instrumentalist in this day and age of reduced major label support and restricted playlists takes a lot of courage. Parris has managed what few before could. He has created a viable amalgamation of rock and jazz without dumbing down either. Add Gil Parris to the list of uniquely identifiable guitarists: Clapton, Carlton, Benson, Beck, and Santana. To top it off, he even gives away his secrets on instructional CDs, DVDs, and books! Lastly, how does he manage to look so young? Should I ask Dorian Gray?

2007 Roger-Z