Carvin' The Bird. James Zollar's Soaring With Bird leads the second wave of Naxos Jazz releases to the market place. It is unique among the Naxos Jazz offerings in that it is completely composed of standards. The object of the recording, obvious from the title, is Charlie Parker. What is not obvious from the title is Zollar's choice of compositions to address. Sure there are some of the old Parker standbys ("Donna Lee", "Parker's Mood", and "Moose the Mooch"), but there are also lesser known gems that, regardless of the interpreter, will always be associated with Bird.
Who's James Zollar? Naxos Classical has been very successful in identifying relatively unknown, yet sublime orchestras and recording them with splendid results. Naxos has extended this aptitude into the Jazz arena. James Zollar is perhaps the best jazz analogy of Naxos? A & R classical success. While his name might not jump quickly to mind, his credentials certainly do. He most recently has been a member of the Kansas City Band that performed in Robert Altman's 1996 film Kansas City. Yes, that was James Zollar playing that slick plunger-muted trumpet beside Nicholas Payton on "The St. Louis Blues" (Kansas City Band, KC After Dark, Verve 314 537). Besides the Kansas City Band, Zollar has also been a sideman on several other notable recordings of the last five years, including David Murray's Dark Star ? The Music of the Grateful Dead (Astroplace 70688) and Don Byron's Bug Music (Nonesuch 79438).
Something Old. Naxos Jazz has taken to recording direct to two track digital on most of its releases with uniformly wonderful results. Soaring With Bird has an infectious, crisp immediacy in both sonics and performance. The former is betrayed in the sharp insistence of Paul Kreibich's ride cymbal. The latter manifests in resourceful arrangements and performances, both with a razor's edge. The modus operandi for this date was to run down the songs a couple of times and then record. Several of the pieces were recorded on the first take. Except for the digital part, these specifications smack of Rudy Van Gelder and the Blue Note 50s and 60s.
Something New. Just about all of Charlie Parker's compositions have been interpreted by other performers. There is little new here. The songs represented are Parker's lower profile chestnuts. There are no "Yardbird Suite"s, "Orinthology"s, or "Cool Blues." There are some of what you might consider Parker's middle tier songs, the previously mentioned "Donna Lee," "Parker's Mood," and "Moose the Mooch." Highlights on the disc include Zollar's superb muted plunger work on "Parker's Mood," trombonist Andy Martin's fleet playing on "Donna Lee," and Ron Eschete's (Gene Harris' regular guitarist) contributions to "Chasing the Bird" and "Steeplechase." Zollar's trumpet playing is competent and probing without being flashy. His support is very fine and the "loose" arrangements and performances are expertly executed.
Ariadne auf Naxos Redux. Naxos is off to a famous start with their first two rounds of releases on Naxos Jazz. I agree with Gramophone 's Roger Thomas when he said of this second wave of Naxos Jazz releases, "...a retail price of [$5.99] for beautifully recorded original material once again returns me to the view that there's simply no good reason for not buying all four of these discs." The other discs in this second wave of releases are the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet, Look to the East ; Umo Jazz Orchestra, Umo Jazz Orchestra ; and Niko Schauble, On the Other Hand (all reviewed this month in these pages).