"We all know how 20th century composers from Messiaen to Ellington to Dolphy cribbed melodies" from birds, says Kevin Whitehead in the liner notes to this collection of fourteen bird songs by the celebrated Clusone 3: Michael Moore (alto sax, clarinet, melodica), Ernst Reijseger (cello), and Han Bennink (drums). None of those three are represented on this broadly-ranging program, but it does include tunes by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael alongside Peruvian folk music, Saint-Saens "Le Cygne," and duck calls by Steve Lacy and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Plus "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along," "Tico-Tico No Fuba," and more.
As fascinating as the choice of melodies is the trio's approach to performing them. Every track, even the hoariest old chestnut, is given a fresh coat of paint, as all three musicians consciously incorporate birdlike melodies - and rhythms - into their interpretations. This is done conspicuously on tracks like Moore's original "Avocet," which is built upon twitters and flutters from both Moore and Reijseger. Lacy's "Duck" is also an exercise in melodic onomatopoeia. But it also crops up here and there on other tracks throughout the disc, as conventional swing rhythms rub elbows with rubato chirrups and peeps, breaking into, commenting upon, and augmenting the overall thrust of the tunes.
Bennink, who came up with the idea of this disc, shows his characteristic puckishness on tracks like "Tico Tico," "Yellow Bird," "El Condor Pasa," and "When the Red Red Robin." All of these and the rest of the numbers, however, are played with respect, albeit with an imaginativeness of interpretation that is continually attention-grabbing. Moore's condor passes with a wild flutter, and his Baltimore oriole is, if this is possible, even more anguished than the original. But he brings out the easy loveliness of "Nightingales Sang in Berkeley Square," "My Bird of Paradise" and "Le Cygne," and of the melodic statements of "The Buzzard Song." Bennink is, as always, a masterful colorist, and Reijseger has tremendous ingenuity (he even sounds like a guitar or banjo on the loose-limbed "Red Red Robin").
In lesser hands a selection of songs like this one might be merely gimmicky or sneeringly ironic. But these are three masterful musicians, and this is marvelously compelling music. Recommended.
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Track listing: The Buzzard Song / Avocet / Yellow Bird / El Condor Pasa / Secretary Bird / When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin' Along / Nightingales Sang in Berkeley Square / Baltimore Oriole / Skylark / Duck / O Pato / Le Cygne / Tico-Tico No Fuba / My Bird of Paradise
Michael Moore, as, cl, melodica; Ernst Reijseger, clo; Han Bennink, d.