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T.K. Blue: Latin Bird

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Saxophonist Charlie Parker is primarily remembered as an incendiary, revolutionary, improvisatory soloist, but he often expressed his style through composition, and many of Parker's original tunes became part of the modern jazz canon. Latin Bird, saxophonist T.K. Blue's label debut for Motema, his ninth release as a leader, reworks eight of Parker's tunes in Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Caribbean and related rhythmic styles.

Blue serves as musical director for pianist Randy Weston, with whom he's played for more than three decades, and also serves as Director of Jazz Studies at Long Island (NY) University's C.W. Post Campus. But the first time he studied Charlie Parker, Blue recalls, "It just messed up my mind completely."

Blue doesn't really play alto in Parker's firebrand style (who does?) so the real star of Latin Bird isn't Parker, or even Blue, but Blue's arrangements of Parker's tunes, along with a Blue version of the timeless "'Round Midnight" and his solo improvisation "He Flew Away Too Soon."

The first two tunes—"Chi Chi" and "Si Si"—and closing "Buzzy," all played in two three clave, burn with the piano and percussive fire of Latin jazz. In "Si Si," Blue and Steve Turre hide sly Thelonious Monk references within the first lines of their alto and trombone solos; pianist Theo Hill and the percussion battery swirl in vibrant Latin rhythms and colors. Parker's melody laughs as it dances through Blue's bright calypso arrangement of "Barbardos." Trap drums beat and roll a refreshing New Orleans second line bounce into "Visa," which is otherwise just the sort of jumpy, angular melody that led some to call Parker's bebop "Chinese music."

Parker was also a great blues player, and Blue makes sure to paint much of his Latin Bird portrait in blue: Turre's trombone and Hill's piano trace the deep creases of Parker's melody, then snuggle down into the soft thick layers of "Blue Bird." Blue's alto verses inject depth and passion into this stark and quiet "'Round Midnight," at first in conversation with just bassist Essiet Okon Essiet until piano and drum enter gently. "Moods of Parker" (Blue's original, inspired by Bird's own "Parker's Mood") opens dramatically and then instantly stretches out into a relaxed, slow-rolling blues that seems to simultaneously laugh and cry—the least Latin, but most straight up blue, tune.

Blue dedicates Latin Bird to trombone player Benny Powell, who was scheduled to appear on these sessions but passed away from complications after surgery, and in whose honor Blue improvises the solo piece "He Flew Away Too Soon."

Track Listing: Chi Chi; Si Si; Visa; Blue Bird; Round Midnight; Barbados; Steeplechase; Moods of Parker; Donna Lee; He Flew Away Too Soon; Buzzy.

Personnel: T.K. Blue: alto saxophone, flute; Willie Martinez: drums; Roland Guerrero: congas, percussion; Essiet Okon Essiet: acoustic and electric bass; Theo Hill: piano; Steve Turre: trombone and shells (1, 2, 4); Lewis Nash: drums (5, 8).

Title: Latin Bird | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Motéma Music

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