Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy, x2 LPs of long-form, lyrical, groove-based free improv by acclaimed guitarist & composer Jeff Parker's ETA IVtet. Recorded live at ETA (referencing David Foster Wallace), a bar in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood with just enough space in the back for Parker, drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Anna Butterss, & alto saxophonist Josh Johnson to convene in extraordinarily depth-full & exploratory music making. Gleaned for the stoniest side-length cuts from 10+ hours of vivid two-track recordings made between 2019 & 2021 by Bryce Gonzales, Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy is a darkly glowing séance of an album, brimming over with the hypnotic, the melodic, & patience & grace in its own beautiful strangeness. Room-tone, electric fields, environment, ceiling echo, live recording, Mondays, Los Angeles. Jeff Parker's first double album & first live album, Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy belongs in the lineage of such canonical live double albums recorded on the West Coast as Lee Morgan’s Live at the Lighthouse, Miles Davis' In Person Friday & Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco & Black Beauty, & John Coltrane's Live in Seattle.
While the IVtet sometimes plays standards &, including on this recording, original compositions, it is as previously stated largely a free improv group —just not in the genre meaning of the term. The music is more free composition than free improvisation, more blending than discordant. It’s tensile, yet spacious & relaxed. Clearly all four musicians have spent significant time in the planetary system known as jazz, but relationships to other musics, across many scenes & eras —dub & Dilla, primary source psychedelia, ambient & drone— suffuse the proceedings. Listening to playbacks Parker remarked, humorously & not, “we sound like the Byrds” (to certain ears, the Clarence White-era Byrds, who really stretched it).
A fundamental of all great ensembles, whether basketball teams or bands, is the ability of each member to move fluidly & fluently in & out of lead & supportive roles. Building on the communicative pathways they’ve established in Parker’s -The New Breed- project, Parker & Johnson maintain a constant dialogue of lead & support. Their sampled & looped phrases move continuously thru the music, layered & alive, adding depth & texture & pattern, evoking birds in formation, sea creatures drifting below the photic zone. Or, the two musicians simulate those processes by entwining their terse, clear-lined playing in real-time. The stop/start flow of Bellerose, too, simulates the sampler, recalling drum parts in Parker’s beat-driven projects. Mostly Bellerose's animated phraseologies deliver the inimitable instantaneous feel of live creative drumming. The range of tonal colors he conjures from his extremely vintage battery of drums & shakers —as distinctive a sonic signature as we have in contemporary acoustic drumming— bring almost folkloric qualities to the aesthetic currency of the IVtet's language. A wonderful revelation in this band is the playing of Anna Butterss. The strength, judiciousness & humility with which she navigates the bass position both ground & lift upward the egalitarian group sound. As the IVtet's grooves flow & clip, loop & repeat, the ensemble elements reconfigure, a terrarium of musical cultivation growing under controlled variables, a tight experiment of harmony & intuition, deep focus & freedom.
For all its varied sonic personality, Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy scans immediately & unmistakably as music coming from Jeff Parker‘s unique sound world. Generous in spirit, trenchant & disciplined in execution, Parker’s music has an earned respect for itself & for its place in history that transmutes through the musical event into the listener. Many moods & shapes of heart & mind will find utility & hope in a music that combines the autonomy & the community we collectively long to see take hold in our world, in substance & in staying power.
On the personal tip, this was always my favorite gig to hit, a lifeline of the eremite records Santa Barbara years. Mondays southbound on the 101, driving away from tasks & screens & illness, an hour later ordering a double tequila neat at the bar with the band three feet away, knowing i was in good hands, knowing it would be back around on another Monday. To encounter life at scales beyond the human body is the collective dance of music & the beholding of its beauty, together. – Michael Ehlers & Zac Brenner