When it comes to live recordings of Charlie Parker, Jazz At Massey Hall, from a concert in Toronto in May 1953, has been widely considered the slam-dunk number one ever since Charles Mingus released it on his Debut label in 1956. Forensicists might favour the 7-CD The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings Of Charlie Parker (Mosaic, 1990), but for most people, Massey Hall takes pole position.
There have, however, been challengers for the top spot. Prominent among them is a recording of Parker leading a pick-up quintet at New York City's Birdland on the night of 15-16 June 1950. The lineup is as good as it got: Parker, trumpeter Fats Navarro, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Curley Russell and drummer Art Blakey. Navarro, just three weeks away from his tragic heroin and tuberculosis-induced passing, is on fire. So is the notoriously erratic Powell; listen out for the details of his playing, such as his off-the-wall comping on Russell's mini-solo on "A Night In Tunisia." Parker is magisterial, bursting with energy, and Russell and Blakey are a rock-solid rhythm section. The album pulses with immediacy and a sense of place and, even on its most low-fi editions, it has unusually good sound for a recording taken from a radio broadcast. Check the YouTube clip of "'Round Midnight" below to get a (low-fi) taste.
In its latest, audio-upgraded edition, Ezz-thetics' Charlie Parker At Birdland 1950 Revisiteda 13-track disc with a playing time just short of 80 minutesthe music has never sounded better. Sound restoration and mastering come courtesy of Michael Brändli, the Ezz-thetics label's sonics maestro. Prior to mastering, Brändli was also able to correct the pitch of most of the tracks. This may be the first CD release of the Birdland material with correct pitch.
It is appropriate that this extraordinary album was recorded at Birdland, for the club witnessed some of the highs and extreme lows of Parker's final half-decade. Named after him, it opened in December 1949 with Parker among the star attractions, and on August 29, 1950not long after Parker returned to New York following a tour of the South, during which trumpeter Red Rodney had to be billed as Albino Red to avoid inflaming the local crackers, and after which Parker swore never to go south of the Mason-Dixon line againthe club hosted his 30th birthday party. Parker played Birdland regularly that year, with many of the gigs broadcast live on station WJZ, which had installed a feed to the studio from which deejay Symphony Sid broadcast. The lowest point came on March 5, 1955, a week before Parker's death, in the gruesome falling-out onstage of Parker and Bud Powell. That sorry story is related in detail in Ross Russell's Bird Lives! (Quartet Books, 1973).
But the night of June 15-16, 1950 was an occasion to remember for all the right reasons and now, enhanced by state-of-the-art audio tech and a label prepared to go the extra curatorial mile, we can enjoy it in all its glory.
Wahoo; ‘Round Midnight; This Time The Dream’s On Me; Dizzy Atmosphere; A Night In Tunisia; Move; The Street Beat; Out Of Nowhere; Ornithology; I’ll Remember April; 52nd Street Theme; Cool Blues; 52nd Street Theme.
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