The story behind Bird with Strings: The Lost Arrangements
is a long one and far too elaborate to dwell on here. Suffice to say that a handful of these arrangements for alto saxophone and small string orchestra, written originally for the incomparable Charlie Parker
, have been heard before (albeit by rather small audiences) while most of them have not. The "Bird" in this instance is composer / educator Clark Gibson
, and it is clear from the outset that he is an avid admirer of Parker and his enterprises with strings. Whether he arranged any of these numbers is not as clear but the charts themselves are splendid.
None of the fourteen selections on this engaging compilation was included in the two-LP set Charlie Parker with Strings,
recorded for the Mercury label in 1949-50, and only one ("Repetition") on the 1995 CD reissue on which ten bonus tracks were added. Parker did record three of them ("Repetition," "Gold Rush," "Stardust") in other contexts and wrote the jazz standard "Yardbird Suite," which he performed many times sans strings. To his credit, Gibson does not try to mirror Parker's singular approach but instead summons forth the indomitable Parker spirit, enabling him to play marvelously on every number with no more than an occasional nod to the special brilliance that set Bird apart from and above his contemporaries (not to mention every alto saxophonist who has drawn breath since).
After opening quietly with the Hoagy Carmichael classic, "Stardust" (lovely oboe work by Evan Tammien), the session quickly gathers momentum on Neal Hefti
's rhythmic "Repetition," wherein Gibson's unerring salvos are matched by those of tenor saxophonist Chip McNeill
. Three more standards ("You Go to My Head," "Gone with the Wind," "I Cover the Waterfront") precede Gerry Mulligan
's "Gold Rush," another flag-waver whose emphatic solos are by Gibson and pianist Chip Stephens
. "Yardbird Suite," taken at an unusually brisk tempo and featuring McNeill's return (on baritone), arrives on the heels of two more standards ("Love Walked In," "Yesterdays") and is succeeded by George Russell's angular "Ezz-Thetic" (based on Cole Porter's "Love for Sale"), the album's most adventurous number. Once again, Stephens solos admirably. Jerome Kern's "They Didn't Believe Me" (the only selection followed by applause) leads to a John Lewis
original, the aptly named "Scootin,'" Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" and the gospel-tinged finale, "When I Dream of You." The strings are impressive throughout, as is the rhythm section, solidly anchored by drummer Matthew Charles Endres.
Setting aside provenance and motive, what remains is a splendid saxophone-with-strings album that embraces the most auspicious elements of Parker's groundbreaking enterprise while adding some tantalizing variations of its own. In other words, well worth hearing and appreciating.
Stardust; Repetition; You Go to My Head; Gone with the Wind; I Cover the Waterfront; Gold Rush; Love Walked In; Yesterdays; Yardbird Suite; Ezz-thetic; They Didn’t Believe Me; Scootin’; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; When I Dream of You.
Clark Gibson: alto sax; Pete Carney: conductor; Daniel Colbert: violin; Eliana Park: violin; Johnny Lusardi: violin; Andreas Ruiz: viola; Ben Hayek: cello; Claire Happel: harp; Chip Stephens: piano; Samuel Peters: bass; Matthew Charles Endres: drums. Track 9 – Barksdale Bryant: trumpet; Dan Wendelken: trumpet; Evan Edmonds: trombone; Jonathan Beckett: alto sax; Maddie Vogler: alto sax; Pete Carney: tenor sax. Track 11 – Daniel Colbert: violin; Chukyung Park: violin; Eliana Park: violin; Sara Sazaki: violin; Andreas Ruiz: viola; Lauren Pellant: cello; Haeju Song: cello; Whitney Ash: piano. Special guests —Chip McNeill: tenor sax (2), baritone sax (9); Evan Tammien: oboe, English horn.