Once in a while, you encounter a special album that tells the story of a remarkable musician, not only as a snapshot, but as a full musical narrative with words and pictures. My Scandinavian Blues: A Tribute to Horace Parlan
is such an album.
The main character, pianist and composer, Horace Parlan
, does not participate himself as a musician and yet he is everywhere: in the songs, in the spirit in which the project was conceived and as a dedicated producer with a mission.
The story of Horace Parlan, one of the great musicians in jazz, is fascinating. As a child, he struggled with polio and yet he won the battle, and against all odds, he became a pianist with a distinctive style whose qualities were recognized by the famous bassist and composer, Charles Mingus
, on whose masterpiece, Mingus Ah Um
(Columbia, 1959), Parlan played a crucial role. Parlan also recorded several strong sessions as a leader and his albums for the Blue Note label have been canonized and collected in a Mosaic box set.
In 1972, Parlan moved to Denmark and since then, the country has been blessed with his musical presence. Today, Parlan does not play anymore, but music is still in his blood and the Scandinavian Blues project is his way of passing something on to the musical environment that he has already given so much. All the compositions are penned by Parlan. In that way, he has complete artistic control and according to the liner notes, it is his hope that in the future the income from the album will be able to support the jazz scene, young musicians especially.
The album is also accompanied by a DVD with videos that support the narrative of the music, for instance, the composition "Arrival" includes an image of a plane and a scene in an airport, hinting at the arrival of Parlan in Denmark. Footage of the recording session is also included and there are insightful comments from pianist Thomas Clausen
and poetic imagery of Parlan in the Danish landscape. Finally, there are also some brief comments from the main character that underline what a charismatic and warm person Parlan is, but mostly the stories are told through images. The music covers a timespan from 1960 to 1999. In other words, there is material from Parlan's formative years in America, including the Blue Note years, and a wide range of compositions from his time in Denmark, including an homage to his late wife, Norma, that is sung by rising star, Sinne Eeg
. Eeg also sings another Parlan-composition: "Little Esther."
Blues is in the title of the album and most of the compositions are blues-based compositions. The group with Clausen, drummer Adam Nussbaum
, bassist Jimmi Roger Pedersen
and saxophonist Tomas Franck
is top-notch. Especially Franck brings his signature John Coltrane
-influenced style to the proceedings, adding a dramatic intro to the opener, "Us Three." In general, Parlan has a knack for writing catchy themes and his understanding of the blues is deep.
The musicians succeed in capturing the Scandinavian blues. However, one cannot help missing Parlan himself on the piano. His playing had a degree of sophistication that is hard to emulate. I remember once when I was playing his version of Duke Ellington
's "C-Jam Blues" and my father came into the room. He asked me what it was and said it sounded good. My father's hero was J.S. Bach, but this caught his ear, just like when I played music by Jeff Buckley, an entirely different, but also sophisticated musician.
The thing is that it is hard to separate Parlan's playing from his music, and yet, one can only be grateful for this document that is classy all the way through. The cover is an original drawing by illustrator Jørgen Saabye and there are photos and liner notes by Henrik Wolsgaard-Iversen and Stine Rendrup Johannsen. It is an attractive package and something Parlan can be proud of. But the album is not the only gift Parlan has given Danmark and the rest of the world. His legacy is first and foremost his own numerous recordings and the concerts he has given. This album is just the icing on the cake and what a cake it is. Now it is time to celebrate Parlan and his music. Or to quote the title of the final composition on the album: Party Time.