Spanning 14 songs in 37 minutes, Forest Standards Vol. 2 is readily digestible to the casual, uneducated jazz listener. Parker’s work with Tortoise subtly informs the whole record, starting with the post-rock mathiness of the opener. “Cloud Ear” starts with some discordant guitar patterns before Lord effortlessly floats atop everything. He has a sturdy connection with classic jazz— a few tracks here are blueprinted from Miles Davis and John Coltrane cuts— but the alluring crossover of art rock puts him on equal ground with the likes of BADBADNOTGOOD and The Comet Is Coming, other contemporaries pushing the envelope on what traditional jazz means in 2020. The improvisation sometimes sounds as much like a hotel ballroom rendition of Amnesiac-era Radiohead as it does a studio jazz group reworking classics.
If the bridge between Radiohead and David Lord feels easy enough to cross, it’s only because of the unorthodox application of traditional songwriting. These are standards, afterall. There’s a tongue-in-cheekiness to the straightforward regimen of one player soloing over repeating chord structures. The short runtimes necessitate quick impact, but Lord subverts all the cut and dry jazz associations with whimsy. It’s the use of Lydian mode that erases barriers between beginnings and endings, making tracks like “Turtle Mushroom” and “Nectaries” sound much more nebulous than they are on paper. It’s a bit like repeatedly circling a dense trail without caring how much of the same foliage you encounter.
The first Forest Standards left more breathing room for arrangements, focusing more on space than atmosphere. This volume trades out that loftiness for quizzical contemplation. Shorter “interlude” pieces drift a bit aimlessly, happy to exist as tidy ramblings. Two of these sketches, “Red Bananas” and “An Amanita,” work in tandem as they both feature Parker’s classical acoustic guitar underneath Lord’s breakneck arpeggios. They’re both short stories that thread singular purpose through gaudy Rococo exposition. The only big statements are reserved for lengthier excursions, like the ominous “Turtle Mushroom” with its back and forth vibraphone/guitar interplay, or the slow-motion tilt a whirl of “Blue Morpho,” neither of which sound remotely indulgent.
True to its namesake, Forest Standards Vol. 2 is perplexingly calm and twisted, the kind of listening experience best suited for an easygoing morning on a blustery day. Its engagement with canonical jazz is rightfully earned, but mischievously delivered with a knowing wink. These are gently fun songs for livening up time in a slowed down world. (Josh Hughes)