Music

Charlie Parker: Best of The Complete Live Performances on Savoy

Maurice Bottomley

Charlie Parker

Best of the Complete Live Performances on Savoy

Label: Savoy Jazz
US Release Date: 2002-05-21
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

If, as is incontrovertibly the case, Charlie Parker is the most influential figure in post-war jazz and if, as we are always told, it was his live experimentations that captured the true "Bird in Flight", then this (representing the pick of a four CD collection) must therefore be just about the most important modern jazz album ever made.

The historical significance of the cream of Parker's radio broadcasts from the Royal Roost is probably even greater than the much loved 1953 Jazz at Massey Hall set, which has the advantage of being a complete live performance but was actually a (superior) reunion session rather than a portrait of the artist in his pioneering phase. These sessions, from the late '40s, show Parker at the moment when the bebop style had reached its full expressive powers, with the new vocabulary now established but still fresh and operating at the very frontiers of the Modernist movement.

Fortunately, its musical strengths are almost enough to carry the weight of the impossible expectations we thus bring to any actual Parker recording. A few tracks in and you suddenly realise that everything you've read is true, that there never was and there still isn't anyone quite like him. Also, because of the unique atmosphere of these club broadcasts, if you don't find yourself musing about notions of genius, imagining yourself back in that most creative and troubled of decades or picturing yourself as a young hipster in that most hip of audiences, then jazz is not for you and I bid you farewell.

In late 1948, Charlie Parker was booked for a long residency at the Royal Roost. The former chicken restaurant (at 1580 or 1474 Broadway, depending on which sleeve notes you read) had moved in to fill the gap created by the decline in fortunes of 52nd street, which never recovered from its free and easy war-time days or the attentions of racially motivated police scrutiny. The self-proclaimed "Metropolitan Bopera House" was to present the new jazz in a club setting more suited to the "concert" aspirations of the new generation. The Innermost of the In Crowd duly gathered to pay homage to their heroes. Parker was the hero of heroes, of course. Recognising that this was no ordinary gig, the proselytizing DJ, Symphony Sid, transmitted the Saturday night sessions on local radio. Thankfully, one Bronx jazz buff (Boris Rose, not the better remembered Dean Benedetti) recorded these and they form the core material for this priceless opportunity to hear Parker as only the privileged few heard him at the time.

Far reaching as were its consequences, Parker's revolution was in essence a simple one. Its aim (and its achievement) was the liberation of the jazz solo. Some time in 1939 or 1940, while searching for a way to avoid what was becoming a rather restrictive and stereotyped approach to soloing, he discovered, in the process of working through "Cherokee", that "by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropriately related changes, I could play the thing I'd been hearing. I came alive." Indeed he did.

A few standards (essentially, "Cherokee", "How High the Moon", "I Got Rhythm") plus a strong dose of Kansas City blues provided the basis of everything to come. Never has an artistic sea change been conjured up from such a seemingly straightforward discovery. The core values were very strong though, residing as they did in the African-American musical continuum. The breakthrough was one of changed perspective and, of course, the supreme playing power needed to put Parker's ideas and insight into practice.

And that is what you get on these recordings -- pure Parker, putting that conceptual leap into, by now nearly perfect, practice. Fascinating as it is to hear a young, frenetic Miles Davis, delightful though his trumpet replacement, Kenny Dorham, sounds, the focus of attention is rarely far from Parker. A focus of amazement too -- at the daring, the incisiveness and most of all the absolute logicality of every phrase and flourish. This is all the more astounding because, even if he had not been present, a series of line-ups that includes (apart from Davis and Dorham) Tadd Dameron, Curley Russell, Max Roach, Tommy Potter, Al Haig, Joe Harris, Lucky Thompson, and Milt Jackson would represent a major chunk of jazz history in itself. All perform admirably (though piano and bass don't always come across as clearly as one would wish) but all are secondary to the altoist and his applied imagination.

A splendid "period hip" intro from Symphony Sid introduces Monk's "52nd Street" and the music hits full throttle straight away. So many great moments -- "Hot House", "Chasin' the Bird", "Scrapple from the Apple", "Barbados", "Groovin' High", "Salt Peanuts", "Cheryl", and "Anthropology" -- all of them prime examples of bebop heaven and each containing a Parker solo that still challenges, still appears beyond the reach of lesser mortals. Only on "Little Willie Leaps In" does he sound at all awkward and unsure. On the other hand, "Scrapple from the Apple" is the finest version available and the Kansas City echoes apparent on "Chasin' the Bird" add warmth and unexpected roundness to the tune. Each song is in fact, a model of compact, creative magic that easily transcends both time and technological limitation.

The inclusion of a very tender "East of the Sun" does make you wish that a few more ballads had been caught on tape. Parker was superb at a slower tempo, listen without prejudice to the once despised With Strings sessions for full proof. No complaints though. Bebop was mostly about rapid-fire playing and impossibly quick changes, and that is what is on offer here in abundance. Not self-indulgently or anarchically, but with a precision and control his epigones could not always manage.

Bebop, like Parker himself, was an incandescence that lit up the night but could not be sustained. This package, with well-written and authoritative sleeve-notes, allows us as close an experience of that moment as can be hoped for. The spoken intros add historical and nostalgic resonance. But this is no heritage trip. If you want to know why "Bird Lives" mysteriously appeared on so many walls after Parker's untimely death, the "Roost" recordings are as good a place as any to begin to find the answer. Vital -- in every sense of the word.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.