Various Artists, "The Passion of Charlie Parker" (Impulse).
This is some piece of work.
Anyone who knows the ins and outs of jazz recording would have every right to dread the result of this, produced by the prodigious Larry Klein. On this tribute to the epochal bebopper who died 62 years ago Klein put words to Parker songs and worked on the lyrics with David Baerwald and a group of musicians are truly formidable playing the jazz of the 21st century, not the '40s. The compositions are from the '40s but the words are new -- on "So Long," a vocal version of Bird's "K.C. Blues" -- you've even got "singer" Jeffrey Wright telling Bird's hometown where it can go in quite obscene terms.
The singers all through this disc are terrific with Klein and Baerwald's words, no matter what their caliber. The singers here are an aristocracy of jazz vocals in 2017---Madeleine Peyroux, Gregory Porter, Melody Gardot, Kurt Elling and Luciana Souza, among others. Wright, a first-rate working actor, is brilliant with some of the words' darker content. But the glory of this disc is the band. Don't be worried by Klein's bragging they have "a new and open way of approaching Jazz." Don't panic, either, when he says "we have endeavored to approach the music cinematically, and to approach the structural aspect of it in a conversational manner, for the most part leaving behind the strictures of the head-solo-head approach that was common practice during the period that bebop was developed." There are sensational solos here by tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and good ones by pianist Craig Taborn. The rhythm sections are truly formidable -- Eric Harland on drums and, on bass, Scott Colley and Larry Grenadier.
The tunes are mostly Bird classics--"Yardbird Suite," "Bloomdido" (named for Buffalo D. J. Maury Bloom, back in the day), "Moose the Mooche," and "Scrapple from the Apple" among others, all with new lyrics words that aren't ideal but aren't bad either. Listening to McCaslin and Co. pay tribute to their towering forebear in the company of first rate singers is nothing if not exciting.
3 1/2 stars (out of four)