Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-12-18

2012-12-18

Charlie Parker: Now's the Time (Verve, 1990) Discographically, Bird on Verve is a mess, primarily but not exclusively due to the strings, orchestras, and choruses Norman Granz employed to market his prize--with the prize's enthusiastic cooperation, absolutely, but that does nothing to undercut the grandiose guff that gums up the Confirmation: Best of the Verve Years twofer. The 1950 Bird and Diz, which features a muffled Monk and isn't as badly damaged as might be by Buddy Rich's bombs, is a pricey import-only. And it isn't nearly as miraculous as this lucky yoking of two quartet sessions: the first 12/30/52 with Hank Jones-Teddy Kotick-Max Roach and the second 8/4/53 with Al Haig-Percy Heath-Max Roach. The recording strategy is pretty consistent: Parker states the theme with minimal help and plays till about 1:50, after which the other guys jam their choruses in before the three-minute mark. Of these, Roach's are generally the most musical, with Jones's fuller and solider than Haig's and the single solo Kotick gets room for higher in content than any of Heath's walks, which do saunter some as his half proceeds. But the core is 25 minutes of unimpeded Bird. The two "Cosmic Rays" should be one at most, and four takes of the midtempo blues "Chi-Chi" is one too many, although the CD-only add-on is welcome because it's where Parker drops the virtuoso boilerplate and sticks to what may be blues boilerplate but who cares. Everything else is superb: two standards, Parker's "Laird Baird" sounding like a standard itself, the non-rote virtuosity of two lightning-quick "I Got Rhythm"-based "Kim"s, the only studio version of his oft-covered "Confirmation," and the definitive rendition of the title original, which in 1949 provided r&b journeyman Paul Williams the materials for a dance smash called "The Hucklebuck" that isn't the first rock and roll record but deserves a nomination. A+

The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall (Original Jazz Classics, 1991) Date: 5/15/53. Length: 47 minutes. Place: Toronto, Ontario. Band: Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach, and clandestine alto saxophonist Charlie "Chan." Never mind the apparently similar Diz N Bird at Carnegie Hall (24 minutes of a quintet that adds John Lewis, Al McKibbon, and Joe Harris to the two horns before turning into a big band record) or the hosannahed Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945 (38 Bird-Diz-Roach minutes substituting Parker's studio-favored Al Haig-Curly Russell piano-bass combo). Without question, this is live Bird numero uno even though the setlist belongs to Dizzy, including the inevitable (and dandy) "Salt Peanuts" and "Night in Tunisia." Parker's relaxed, bluesy mood is epitomized by a seriously interactive "All the Things You Are" that shifts bar-by-bar between virtuoso phrases and soulful here's-the-melody before dissolving into a "52nd Street Theme" breakdown. Gillespie is lyrical and incisive, Powell brings his A game, Roach thunders like no post-swing drummer working, and Mingus's bass is the most expressive in classic bebop. O Canada! A

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