CD review: Bird at 100: CD

This review was published on: May 29th 2020

Bobby Watson, Vincent Herring and Gary Bartz (alto saxophones)
Smoke Sessions Records

This 72-minute CD was recorded live at the Smoke Jazz Club NYC, between 30 August and 1 Sept 2019, as a tribute to Charlie Parker, who would have been 99 on 29 August. All three alto saxophonists are extremely fluent improvisers in what might now be termed a ‘pure bop’ idiom. Stylistically, the material stems from Charlie’s early period – ie late 40s/early 50s – and high-quality support is provided by the three-piece rhythm section made up of David Kikoski (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and Carl Allen (drums).

Opening with two up-tempo tracks, ‘Klactoveedsedstene’ and ‘Bird-ish’, I think the solo order for both is: Herring, Watson, Bartz. My doubts stem from a) the very similar sound emanating from the instruments (two Yamahas and a Yanagisawa) and b) verbose but slightly unclear liner notes. But nothing can take away the delight of hearing masterful soloists giving their all to a receptive audience with the results recorded in high quality – a service too rarely enjoyed by Charlie. Opening choruses on both of these tracks are taken by all three soloists in harmony.

Track 3 has Vincent soloing on ‘Lover Man’ – glorious, with a truly exceptional coda. Everyone gets a solo spot in ‘The Hymn’ (Parker’s up-tempo B flat blues) with Kikoski perhaps shining brightest – only ‘perhaps’, as all the altoists give it fierce treatment. ‘These Foolish Things’ provides Watson with the opportunity to show his skills as both a consummate balladeer and free improviser – magnificent. Track 6, ‘Folklore’, returns us to an up-tempo original from Herring with thrilling solos from all.

The final three tracks are ‘Bird Lives’ from Jackie McLean – solos all round, followed by Bartz’s feature ‘April in Paris’ and an all-hands-on-deck’ ‘Yardbird Suite’. My personal favourite has to be Bartz’s ‘April in Paris’, but in fairness everyone on this project delivers a high-quality professional job that could possibly be summarised as something Charlie would have enjoyed. Certainly I can recommend this CD to today’s students of bop.

Kenneth Morris

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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