Gil Parris "Strength"

Gil Parris "Strength"
215 Records

CD review by Roger-Z (8/26/06)
Appeared in More Sugar, October 2006, P. 11B

Since the breakdown of the movie studio system in the late 1950s, it falls upon the producer/director/actor to put together a project. Recently, with the consolidation of the major recording companies into just four players, that same fate befalls the musician. Gil Parris recently signed five deals: the "Strength" CD with 215 Records; a book including instructional CD for Mel Bay entitled "The Double Stop Guide, A Whole Music Approach for Guitar;" a signature electric guitar for Reverend; a four disc instructional CD-ROM for TrueFire called "Inside-out: Gil Parris" that provides a complete overview of the Parris style; and finally with a company that will advertise a radio package of the "Strength" and "Blue Thumb" CDs and create a TV infomercial for the "Strength" CD bundled with a live DVD of featured celebrity guests.

By the end of this winter, Mr. Parris' infomercial will be as familiar to late night TV viewers as "Girls Gone Wild," "Bowflex," and even "Esteban." The latter (a multi-millionaire) probably serves as a role model. Both of these guitarists face an overwhelming obstacle -- they don't sing! Only the smooth jazz stations in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area (including CD 101, play instrumental music.

Gil Parris and producer/engineer/saxophonist David Mann took great pains to craft this CD for that market. They constructed most of these tunes from the ground up using electronic drums and bass. The exceptions include Tim Lefebvre playing acoustic bass on "The Duck Walk" and Thierry Arpino drumming on three tracks. As Mr. Parris told me, "If you listen deeper, there is just as much guitar work on 'Strength' as there is on 'Jam This.' It was quite a challenge to put my personality on this record and still fit the demographic." Bullseye. Parris achieves just what he set out to do. And even expands his guitar sounds. In addition to the searing Strat and mellow Carvin jazz tones, Parris now plays acoustic nylon string guitar.

Wes Montgomery did it. George Benson did it. So did Jeff Golub (Billy Squire) and Craig Chaquico (Jefferson Starship). Now Parris takes a shot at making a totally commercial record. The opening track (and first radio single), "Jazz Night Out," pairs synthesizer riffs reminiscent of Paul McCartney's "Having a Wonderful Christmas Time!" with the groove and determination of the 1970's "Soul Train" theme. Quite a knockout. Next up, the shimmering "Ibiza," features a beautiful four-note chord melody played on a Nashville strung baby Taylor guitar (using the high strings from a 12 string set) and expansive Bob Baldwin keyboards. Gil remakes "The Duck Walk" (originally a power rock tune from "Jam This") with Tim Lefebvre on acoustic bass and Randy Brecker featured playing the melody and soloing on trumpet. What a difference! Reminds me when the Beatles put out the hard rock version of "Revolution" as a single and then included an acoustic version on the "White Album."

But in truth, I love it most when Parris digs down deep on his rose-tattooed gray Strat and rips out those white-hot guitar lines on his mid-tempo soul ballads such as "Together Again" and "When Love Was New." Of course, Parris understands the meaning of foreplay. You gotta wait for the wail. On "Together Again," the long and not-so-tortuous process includes a trip through his patented double stop techniques -- which I dub the "pop the bubble wrap" and "modal minor blues." On "When Love Was New," he eschews the double stops for a more languorous and dissonant Jerry Garcia style build-up. Except unlike Jerry, Parris switches from leading the band to playing around the band. "If It Feels Good" features Pete Levin on organ, Thierry Arpino on drums, and Dave Mann on sax. Boy does it kick. Shades of David Sanborn and the Michael McDonald era of The Doobie Brothers. I love Parris' psycho country picking, especially when he trades licks with Mann.

Parris' new signature guitar appears all over the album. As he put it to me, "It's made by Reverend (The great Joe Naylor's design), and it has a sleek Tele-ish body w/2 Humbucking pickups, a single coil in the middle, and a special bass control knob for the neck pickup -- the idea being able to get out-of-phase Strat sounds, darker jazz tones, and fat blues out of one single instrument."

Gil Parris had to make this record. One of New York's top session players, he mixes one-off road trips with a lot of local area gigs including jams. I asked him if he ever got tired of hosting the open mikes. I expected him to say that he couldn't wait to get out on tour to promote the new projects. Instead, he expressed his joy in hearing his regulars improve from week to week. I believe him. But buy the record so he can go out full-time and achieve the success he so richly deserves.

2006 Roger-Z