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T.K. Blue: Latin Bird

Greg Simmons By

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For a fellow who's been dead since 1955, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker is having a really good year. Several high-profile projects have been released featuring his music, with various adjustments, tints, and abstractions, and some of these have been quite good. Now comes multi-woodwind player T.K. Blue, with Latin Bird, which adds some Latin flavor to a group of well known Parker classics.

The challenge to covering an icon like Parker—particularly if the musician in question is playing the same alto horn—is that it invites direct comparison of two musicians staring at each other over an interim sixty years. The trap for Blue would have been to try to imitate Parker's prodigious soloing because, frankly, how could he compete with that?

The alternative, and the path wisely chosen here, is to take Parker's compositions and use them like a fashion model. The model is presumably beautiful, but becomes chameleon-like, as designers project their vision on her. Blue's addition of distinct rhythms and tight arranging transforms a set of classics into something recognizable, but different enough invite a careful examination.

A melodic soloist with an effortless tone, Blue seems to draw more directly from Sonny Rollins than from Bird. "He Flew Away Too Soon" features Blue playing alone, clearly demonstrating a discerning approach to his horn. But his real work with this date is as an arranger. The songs are stretched and pulled to accommodate time signature changes, the inclusion of Rolland Guerrero's congas, and some new instrumental interludes.

"Si Si" is the best example of this approach. The melody remains firmly in place, but the drums—and the congas in particular—really make it bounce. Blue adds some call-and-response soloing between himself and guest trombonist Steve Turre, before abandoning the melody briefly to the rhythm section's Afro-Cubano sonic carpet.

The album includes exactly one Blue original: the unhurried, but very Bird-like "Moods of Parker." The congas lay out for this track, leaving the stripped-down quartet playing a straight blues that showcases pianist Theo Hill, a great pianist who's far easier to hear and appreciate when he's not competing with two percussionists.

Latin Bird has a lot going for it. The musicians are great; the choice of material is first-rate; and the arranging adds enough originality to the mix to keep it all very interesting.

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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