Things I Wonder
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Things I Wonder

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Jazz Alternative




"Jazz Top 10"

(excerpt) "I never imagined a band that could sound like it was forming itself, on the fly, out of a stew of jazz, fusion, prog-rock and punk. The Bad Plus cracked open this door, Parrello lopes through it, with out any self-consciousness about making a statement." - The Big City Blog

"Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder"

Recently, I went to see Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder. They were described to me as an avant-garde jazz band, obviously out of the sphere of inclusion for Indieball, so I relaxed knowing that I wouldn’t have to deliberate over whether or not I would write about them, thus eliminating the need to exert any mental energy trying to remember special moments to later describe. I would just have a pure, unadulterated listening experience. I did, until about half-way through the set when, as generally happens when one has pre-defined an experience, I was wildly (!) taken for surprise by the next few songs. They were begging, imploring, kindly asking to be considered something else and to be appreciated by a wider audience (Hello, Indieball).
“My War”, off the self-titled album to be released in January 2011, is one such track. P.J. Harvey greets Feist remembers Portishead. Something like that. Parrello’s compositions, not just of the individual songs but also of the songs within the album, are thoughtfully gorgeous, equally matching the sheer beauty of Karlie Bruce’s vocals and lyrics. Bruce also contributed to several of the compositions (”My War” included). In case that’s not enough talent for you already, the extended band includes a host of additional complementary musical prowess.
Ideas are meant to be broken down, rearranged and reincarnated. Through Openness. Interpretation. Impression. Emotion. This music is stamped with all of those characteristics. Preview other tracks through the Official Site link below. For those of you in New York or who find yourself in New York on January 25th, check out the album release party at Joe’s Pub. Don’t worry, we’ll remind you closer to the date. -

"Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder"

In the press release, leader/guitarist/composer Chris Parrello says his first CD is “probably a jazz record.” Or not. There are no bebop changes, no interpretations of classic jazz or American songbook tunes here. Rather, Parrello explores frequently dark and cinematic musical ideas of his own. Accompanied on most tracks by vocalist Karlie Bruce, Parrello employs both acoustic and electric guitars to create soundscapes that seem to invoke modern classical chamber music as much as jazz. The opening “Choices” is a good example, as the sound modulates from bright to foreboding, with Bruce’s wordless vocals and an increasingly insistent beat. Two exceptions to the overall sound of this disc are the Frisell meets Hendrix playfulness of “In Spite of You” and closing rocker “Welcome Home.” On occasion, Parrello is joined by other instruments, most prominently the cello work of Rubin Kodheli. It would be fascinating to see how these pieces open up live. - LEO Weekly

"Axe Men"

Closer to the Frisell point on the axis, but again not in slavish imitation, is Chris Parrello. It’s not in the use of any electronic washes or his guitar sound in particular, which tends toward a more jagged side. Where I hear it is in the desire to express the dream state of the American imagination, the alchemy of Appalachia, Harlem, Death Valley, Detroit and Surf City U.S.A. that exists in no place except the vast expanse of our minds and hearts where we wish for things to be. It’s in the slow beat and lilting arpeggiation of “Anymore,” from his eponymous debut CD with his band Things I Wonder. This is a remarkable recording, and an exciting example of how fresh and fine the state of contemporary jazz is, how musicians are expanding this still young music into new territory while maintaining its core values.
It starts with the voluptuous pleasure of sound. Orchestration is usually a haphazard aspect of jazz, at best, but Parrello has clearly put together his ensemble of guitar, voice sax, bass and drums – and the additional colors of cello, trumpet and pedal steel guitar – with an ear towards the power and expressivity of timbre. The opening track “Choices” begins delicately and lyrically, with a rising harmonic rhythm, lightly propulsive cymbals, a pithy melody for soprano sax and Karlie Bruce’s evocative wordless vocals. It’s just gorgeous. Then the music darkens and toughens up considerably, developing a thrilling, insinuating, aggressive quality to frame the sax solo from Ian Young and Bruce’s affectingly hostile/erotic vocalizing. Parrello’s own thoughts on the music concern whether or not it’s jazz, but I think tracks like this, “Open Out” and “In Spite of You” are certainly jazz. They don’t swing per se, but the thing about swing is that it’s actual hey-dey not only came a generation after jazz was created but also didn’t last long. No one needs to swing to play jazz anymore, and they never did.
The band does play more than jazz on the disc, though. While other musicians have made covering Radiohead tunes a standard part of the contemporary repertoire, Things I Wonder is the first jazz group I’ve heard that actually makes their original music somewhat in the style of that band. Bruce is a big part of it, she emulates Thom Yorke a bit in timbre and her half-articulated phrasing, and Parrello is the other part in the way he adapts the rock group’s harmonic grandeur. There is material on the disc, especially the closing three song stretch of “Undone,” “My War” and “Welcome Home” that is firmly pop/rock in style, and is terrific, musically smart and played with bracing power. Parrello always sounds like his own man, incorporating his influences into an individual voice, keeping everything grounded in his expansively American sound. There are moments when he and the band fall back into stylistic and compositional mannerisms – “In Spite of You” leans heavily on “Anymore,” and Bruce threatens to drown the short “She Laughs” under a lugubrious delivery – but these are just as much quirks of an artist developing a powerful style. A beguiling, fascinating recording and a stunning debut. - The Big City Blog

"Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder (Stray Dog Music, 2011)"

An international cast of characters makes up the group led by New York City based guitarist and composer Chris Parrello, and the group creates an enchanting amalgam of indie rock and modern jazz. Consisting of Karlie Bruce on vocals, Ian Young on saxophones, Kevin Thomas on bass, Aviv Cohen on drums, Rubin Kodheli on cello, Greg Glassman on trumpet and Rich Hinman on pedal steel, the unusual instrumentation allows the band to create varied and continually shifting sound-scapes. “Choices" opens the album with wordless vocals and strong guitar propelled by excellent drumming. “Anymore" features subtle lullaby like guitar playing, developing a gently emotional ballad, with soulful moans and haunting string accompaniment. “Open Out" has strong saxophone and breathy vocals over slinky groove, while slow moaning vocals (with lyrics) permeate “Broken Shell" with violin and acoustic guitar “In Spite of You" builds a guitar—bass—drums trio in a shimmering dynamic, with guitar building strong neon shards of notes through the charges musical atmosphere. “She Laughs" is a short interlude for haunting vocals and acoustic guitar. Vocals emoting plaintive and longing are featured on “Undone," with a languorous groove that builds around the singing with subtle horns accenting. “My War" roars into indie rock territory with slashing guitar drums and guitar and strong evocative vocals. Soft cello and acoustic guitar provide a slow and graceful coda on the concluding “Welcome Home." Pulling together the best aspects of modern rock and jazz the group has created unique and compelling album. Bruce's vocals are excellent throughout, sounding at times like an adventurous Chan Marshall of Cat Power, and other times a Nico like chanteuse. Fine stuff, recommended to adventurous jazz and rock fans. - All About Jazz

"WECB Music Report"

Artists who let their streams of consciousness flood into their finished output wield either a millstone of grandiloquence or an undeniable charisma, a power to drag listeners out of their comfort zones and somehow manipulate their kicking and screaming to compliment the music like ambience from the studio. Rarely does such an ambitious scope have the immediate poignance required to shed the weight of the former; for a musician to assume his ideas of music either concord with or supersede his listeners' is more insulting and off-putting than charming. Chris Parrello and his band of misfit virtuosos dodge that anvil with a pop-minded approach to experimentation that is as inherent as it is unconscious. He rewards his listeners for patiently trudging along his miry trail of free jazz-inspired movements just in time for them not to desire one, making the sugar that much sweeter.

"My War" is that nectarous surprise. The album's second-to-last track is both outwardly percussive and strangely melodious, lacking only a timely gimmick to complete the perfect recipe for a Top 40 hit. The guitar's rhythmic pulse acts as a decoy while the drums stealthily leap from standard rhythm to beautifully bombastic free-form. Meanwhile, intermittent vocalist Karlie Bruce compounds layer upon authoritative layer, projecting an icily clear tone without compromising raw conviction. "My War" proves that Parrello's ears sometimes yearn for the same comfort and dependability for which lay ears pine, but not before testing his listeners' stamina for nearly a half-hour of unruly babble.

But Parrello punctuates the ungoverned movements with small sandbars of easy listening. "Broken Shell" and "She Laughs" maneuver unconventional chord changes to fit conventional ears, and not the other way around. Similarly, the seven-minute standout instrumental "In Spite Of You" begins and ends so indolently that an absurdist free-form movement juggernauts its way through soft-rock bookends nearly undetected.

Even with his bottomless bag of tricks, though, Parrello's music can certainly live or die with the listener's mood; his meandering licks and blunt, pastel-like tones would enhance a study session or R.E.M. sleep, but would probably slaughter the buzz of a party or a windows-down drive. So Things I Wonder may never be a perennial go-to record in your collection, but it's versatile enough to fill out almost any alternative niche your still-adolescent moods will try to stump you with.

"Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder: CD Release with special guest John Shannon"

Melding modern, upbeat jazz with spidery guitar work and spooky, sometimes wordless vocals, Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder are difficult to pin down. But whatever you want to call them, the music is the ultimate expression of city life — at times fast, at times slow, always complex and loaded with international flair — and a testament to Parrello’s East Village upbringing. His graceful fingerpicking anchors the band, echoing master chord-cruncher Ted Greene one moment and fellow NYC band Callers the next. To celebrate the release of the group’s new, self-titled record, they’re joined by vocalist/guitarist John Shannon, whose aptly named album American Mystic overflows with its own enchanting guitar work. - Beacon Pass


Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder (self-titled), 2011.

Concrete Cradle, to be released spring 2012.



Things I Wonder is a New York based band lead by guitarist/composer Chris Parrello. Chris has been so fortunate to play a good bit of music, across genres, from The Blue Note, to The Mercury Lounge, to Carnegie Hall. He is a winner of the Bruswick Award for Composition and had been commissioned to compose by the Museum of Modern Art. Below is the press release from his January 2011 release.

Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder

Nearly a full century into the music's recorded history, the answer to the question "What is jazz?" continues to change. Artists are as likely to reject the label as they are to self-identify as "jazz" with a personal definition of that word. Guitarist and composer Chris Parrello concedes that his debut with band Things I Wonder is "probably a jazz record." It is a jazz record that has absorbed international characters and other stylistic influences - a reflection of Parrello's native New York City.

Hailing from Manhattan's East Village, Parrello believes there is “an inevitable bond, a deeply-held commonality, between those of us who have had the random fortune of being born and raised in New York City. It’s inevitable that we are in some way formed by the hustle and bustle, and we are able to stand firm despite its pull, while around us the continuous flow of transplants splash down to take their best shot. I think that the city moves more slowly for the native. For me, New York is not an idea, it’s a home.”

Things I Wonder finds Parrello surrounded by musicians who have chosen to call New York home as well. Australian vocalist Karlie Bruce shines throughout the record, serving a multitude of roles, from multitracked wordless choir ("Anymore") to second horn ("Choices") to smoldering singer-songwriter. "Broken Shell," "Undone" and "My War" feature Bruce's original lyrics to Parrello's songs. Cellist Rubin Kodheli, from Albania, and bassist Kevin Thomas, from Las Vegas, join with Parrello's guitar to form a resonant wooden base for the record. Drummer Aviv Cohen, from Israel, ably supports them. Californian (via Boston) Ian Young's tenor and soprano saxophones alternately glide over the band and forcefully dig into them. Parrello speaks highly of his bandmates. "As I've grown with this band, I certainly composed with the specific players in mind. The album was built around them."

As a guitarist, Parrello is equally comfortable on acoustic and electric, with big sounds and beautiful touch on both instruments. Often eschewing freedom in favor of dutifully keeping to the composed material, Parrello drives the band with his own dynamic, rhythmic energy, with unapologetically guitar-friendly chord voicing functioning as the harmonic axis of the tunes. His composition mirrors his playing: echoes of diverse guitar heroes, from George Benson to Jimmy Page to João Bosco, sit well among the vast range of stylistic references that Parrello seamlessly merges. Indeed, each piece on the album evokes some well-worn musical device with a slight twist, as filtered through Parrello's mind. The composer's love for music theory - be it jazz harmony, chorale writing, or "post-tonal transformations" - strongly informs his craft, creating a unified compositional voice. "When one studies counterpoint, one learns rules that we internalize and help us to select the best ideas we have. As I've become more comfortable with these ideas I've found myself applying them in ways I'd not expected, and they’ve taught me to care for the treatment of a melodic line, of the arc of a song, and the arc of a record."

It is this careful attention to the arc of a record, and the arc of an ensemble, that characterizes Things I Wonder as an album and as a band. "I wanted to make something that has some longevity for the listener; music that might stay with somebody," Parrello says. "I feel so lucky to have these beautiful players, amazing people, on my team. I think we've been able to communicate something really special."