Charlie Parker Legacy Band, Brecon Jazz Festival
In the shadow of Parker's mood
Sunday 21 August 2005
And yet in some ways the music of Charlie Parker has proved curiously resistant to assimilation, especially by the kind of anniversary tributes the circuit specialises in. While superbly pliant alto saxophonists such as Woods, Speake and Peter King can carry off their own distinctive versions of that beautiful bluesy sound, and that headlong rush of notes, negotiating their way through the harmonic traffic-lights with remarkable ease, the essence of Bird, and of bebop, is usually missed. What imitation, or dull obeisance, fails to capture is the sheer science-fiction modernity of it all: the shock of the blue.
And so it proved with the Charlie Parker Legacy Band, an amiable-enough quintet put together by the hot-shot trumpeter John Faddis, who was barely more than a baby when Parker popped his brogues. With the suitably bluesy Jesse Davis taking the Bird role on alto saxophone, and veterans Jimmy Cobb (who played on Kind of Blue) on drums and Ronnie Matthews on piano, it was a good solid band, and the arrangements of originals such as "Parker's Mood" kept true to the spirit of the music. But maybe because of the setting, or because a trumpeter rather than a sax-man was leading the band, the project appeared to miss the point of Parker almost entirely. Bebop's blood, sweat and tears of emotional turbulence had been exchanged for the tranquil recollections of repertory-jazz.
The performance of the young English alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch later that afternoon at the Theatr Brycheiniog had - on the face of it - nothing to do with Charlie Parker at all, yet it came a lot closer to suggesting his mercurial power and frustrating intransigence. Although Kinch has received a lot of praise and won a few awards already, as a player he's not really there yet: what we're applauding is the hope of what he might become. His tone is uninflected and relatively unformed, and his compositions, while remaining interesting, don't have a lot of meat on the bone. But, stubbornly, Kinch holds on to a vision of what he thinks jazz is about, and he's evolving a kind of language that brings to mind the post-bop experiments of Eric Dolphy and Booker Little, as well as the more recent example of Steve Coleman, in a way that reflects the here and now of contemporary British society very effectively.
When the New Orleans-born trumpeter Abram Wilson came out to join Kinchfor the last few numbers, everything went up a gear. His full-blooded trumpet style, confident presence and superior rapping and vocal abilities brought the whole show to life. Truly, Charlie Parker had found his Dizzy Gillespie. They ended, comically if frustratingly, free-styling on the subject of "Weetabix", a topic suggested by the audience.
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