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Out June 19, 2012 on Popopomo Music

Chris Parrello, THINGS I WONDER

New York City has long been the proving ground for jazz musicians, but for all its opportunities it can be a harsh, unforgiving metropolis. Guitarist/composer Chris Parrello has been confronted with all of those same challenges, but with one advantage: as a native New Yorker, he’s always been able to count on a strong support system – what he refers to, in the title of his new EP, as a Concrete Cradle.

“It’s hard here in the city,” Parrello admits, “and it’s hard trying to be an artist generally. When people who aren’t from here go through difficult times, they’re on their own. I’m thankful for the fact that when things got tough, my city and my family and friends were here.”

Perhaps having that safety net has encouraged Parrello to cultivate such an adventurous sound, a jazz voice that can call upon influences as diverse as Steve Reich and Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Page and George Benson. Concrete Cradle is the follow-up to the self-titled debut by Things I Wonder, a loose-knit collective formed around Parrello’s strikingly original sound. While both recordings feature roughly the same line-up, Parrello considers Things I Wonder to be both a band and a concept, one malleable enough to expand and adapt to different configurations.

Chris Parrello and Karlie Bruce

One key collaborator is Australian singer Karlie Bruce, whose voice can transform from the ethereal, angelic wordless choir of “Broken Windows” to the languorous moan of the sludgy, Nirvana-influenced “Dirty,” for which she also contributed lyrics. The band also includes Las Vegas native Kevin Thomas on bass, Albanian-born cellist Rubin Kodheli, Californian Ian Young on saxophones, and Israeli drummer Aviv Cohen; Parrello credits these musicians with further evolving the music from his original conceptions. “You end up learning about the music by bouncing it off great players,” he says. “These are all amazing players who I have close personal relationships with.”

Parrello toiled over the mixing of the album, laboring to achieve the sound he heard in his head. During that process, he recalled a drawing that his mother had made during his childhood, while she was a student at the School of Visual Arts. “Her assignment was to replicate next to them in pencil, this glossy black and white photograph of Coke bottles, which was very difficult because the photo was very high-contrast. I remember her working with charcoal, just scraping and spraying this drawing to somehow make it as dark as possible. It was amazing, but I ended up ripping part of this picture when I was a baby so it became this imperfect perfect specimen.”

Determined to use the image as the album’s cover, reflecting his vigorous “scribbling” on his own creation, Parrello was disappointed to discover his mother had recently thrown the original away. An artist friend, Alex Kwartler, created an interpretation for the cover, though Parrello’s mother is still present via a high school self-portrait on the CD’s back cover.

Each of the EP’s four tunes tie into the title concept in some way, making for a somewhat darker-tinged mood but one shot through with hope and comfort. The opening track is named after the “Broken Windows” theory, which argued that cleaning up vandalized urban environments led to a decrease in crime. Parrello related this to his own childhood, when graffiti-covered subway cars were suddenly cleaned up. “One day it was gone,” he recalls. “If I think about the experience of taking the subway now versus when I was a little kid, it feels like a very different New York.” The music, with its evocative, recursive ukulele figure and paradisiacal vocals, was inspired by minimalist composer Steve Reich.

Chris Parrello and Karlie Bruce

Bruce’s vocals combine with Parrello’s introspective acoustic playing to create a bittersweet atmosphere on the title track, while the singer’s repeated invocation to not worry on “Dirty” isn’t entirely reassuring as the piece builds in tension, eventually subsumed by Hagar Ben-Ari’s pounding electric bass and Tyler Wood’s glacial synths.

The gritty, Southern rock-flavored “No People” takes its title from a line in an episode of “Mad Men,” in which a character declares, “You can’t trust a man who has no people.” Parrello explains, “That line stuck with me. There can be many transitory relationships here in the city, especially among musicians. People flow in and out, so I’m thankful for the roots that I have.”

Release date: June 19, 2012

Chris Parrello // Upcoming Shows:

Thursday June 21: Concrete Cradle Release Concert, Joe’s Pub, New York, NY
9:30 PM – w/Karlie Bruce, Kevin Thomas, Brian Chase, Sam Sadigursky

Wednesday June 6: w/John Shannon, Kevin Thomas, Evan Pazner,
Pete’s Candy Store, Williamsburg, NY

Wednesday June 13: w/Rich Hinman, Hagan Ben-Ari, Brian Chase
Pete’s Candy Store, Williamsburg, NY

Wednesday June 20: w/Karlie Bruce, Kevin Thomas, Brian Chase
Pete’s Candy Store, Williamsburg, NY

Wednesday June 27: w/Karlie Bruce, Kevin Thomas, Jerome Jennings, Sam Sadigursky
Pete’s Candy Store, Williamsburg, NY

Thursday June 29: w/Karlie Bruce, Kevin Thomas Lily Pad, Cambridge, MA

Keep up with composer / guitarist Chris Parrello by visiting: chrisparrello.wordpress.com

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