Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man

In 2018 Aaron Parks, an American jazz pianist, released an album called Little Big. As you may have guessed, Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man is a follow-up, recorded by the same 4-piece band. That much is clear. Things get a little hazy after that. A Bandcamp review, for example, says “Dreams of a Mechanical Man is Little Big’s second release on Ropeadope Records“. And yet, the Bandcamp website only lists Little Big as a Russian electronic dance band with no connection to the album. I think we can assume Bandcamp’s reviewer was a little bit confused.

Aaron Parks’ website relies on a biography written for AllMusic by Matt Collar, but he does say this about himself:

Always beginning. Often perplexed.
Drawn to beauty and to the absurd.
I play piano, write songs, and take pictures of doors with my phone.
A bit odd.

Perhaps more revealing is that he studied at the Manhattan School of Music, released his first album as band leader in 1999, went on to release another nine albums under his own name and has worked with numerous other musicians.

About Little Big II, Parks says:

“There’s so much deeply troubling news coming at us each day, amplified by how we consume media. It is all too easy for our hearts to become overwhelmed and hardened. For us to do the systemic work that we need to do to stand a chance on this Earth, we will need to be able to show up with our hearts available and whole. We must be able to feel.”

The reductionist would say that all men are mechanical – just collections of subatomic particles obeying the laws of physics – and Crotchety Man is inclined to agree. But we don’t think on that level. And we certainly don’t respond to music in that way. The 12 tracks on the Little Big II album appeal directly to our disparate emotions.

Take The Ongoing Pulse of Isness, for example. It starts with whispering tinkles as if to say, “Don’t mind me. I won’t disturb you …”. So you carry on with whatever you are doing – reading a book or cooking a meal, perhaps. But there’s a caress in the sounds that can’t quite be ignored. As singing wine glasses and synthesised chimes give way to a vibraphone melody, it begins to steal your attention. A piano and guitar duet becomes a pleasant distraction. “Join me”, they say, “in this moment”. The book and the spatula are set aside, and the mind falls into deep reverie. The world that was full of movement and change has stopped. All that’s left is a never ending ‘now’ suspended in time.

The whole album belies a mechanistic explanation of the universe. Whether it is urging us to consider the climate crisis (Attention Earthlings), offering succour for our woes (Solace) or inviting healing introspection (The Shadow & The Self), it speaks on a higher level. As Parks himself says, to appreciate it, we must be able to feel.

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