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Manu Codjia / Geraldine Laurent / Christophe Marguet: Looking For Parker

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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It's very much a trio of equals that recorded Looking For Parker, but alto saxophonist Géraldine Laurent sometimes muscles her way out front. This is partly just the nature of the horn, and partly because she plays the same instrument as Charlie Parker, to whose music the record is dedicated. And most of all, Laurent, more than her band mates, clearly derives from the bebop lineage initiated by Parker.

The record begins, almost literally, looking for Parker in the midst of an uneasy rock 'n' roll figure played by the guitar and drums; from this sonic material, Laurent emerges playing the familiar melody of "Moose the Mooche." The performance signals that this is not to be a traditionalist revival of the music of the mercurial bebop genius.

In general, the trio pretty much plays the themes straight, despite its adventurous approach to other elements of the compositions, and this underscores the resemblances—and the differences—between Laurent's and Parker's playing; on "A Night In Tunisia," by the way, Laurent avoids Parker's iconically famous, breathtaking alto break.

Guitarist Manu Codjia is one of the freshest-sounding guitar players anywhere: he clearly owes a debt to Bill Frisell—evident on the crystalline "Out of Nowhere," or in the dreamy opening of "April in Paris"—but also to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. The guitarist's role is crucial, as he stands in, variously, for the piano and bass on the old Parker quintet recordings. Sometimes he plays a more or less straight combination of the rhythm and harmony instruments of the originals, as on the marvelous "Hot House," where his conservatism encourages particularly adventurous playing from drummer Christophe Marguet. Elsewhere, Codjia brings a harmonic language substantially less cluttered than the overcharged bebop chord progressions of the originals on the vaguely Caribbean- sounding "Billie's Bounce" or the R&B-influenced bass line that underlies "Red Cross"—with, perhaps, Codjia's most characteristic solo, which ultimately spirals into a lovely dance with Laurent.

Marguet, meanwhile, is quite at home in free environments, but his drumming rocks, too; this is a combination of characteristics that he brings from his longstanding association with bassist Hélène Labarrière.

Looking for Parker feels less coherent than Laurent's tribute to Gigi Gryce, Around Gigi (Dreyfus, 2010 ). But this record is also more audacious, and the group's identity takes form as the performance unfolds. There is every reason to believe that this group is just getting better. Furthermore, there are plenty more items in this songbook that this trio could adapt: "All The Things You Are," "Donna Lee," "Koko," "Now's The Time," "Swedish Shnapps." Let's hope there's a sequel—onstage, on record, or both.


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