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New Spins On Old Masters

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Dave Brubeck and Charlie Parker were two of the most influential jazz figures of their eras. Many musicians have interpreted their work over the years but these two albums take more liberties than usual with their compositions to good effect.

Mark Zaleski Band
Our Time: Reimagining Dave Brubeck
Origin Records
2021

Saxophonist Mark Zaleski actually studied at the Dave Brubeck Institute and got to know Brubeck and his wife Iola. This set of all Brubeck compositions mostly keeps their framework intact but reshapes them in intriguing ways. The flexibility of having two saxophonists in the band, Zaleski on alto and Jon Bean on tenor, and Mark Cocheo on guitar, helps in that regard. "The Duke" becomes a slow and lush drawl expanded by the saxophones and guitar. "Softly, William, Softly," originally done as a piano trio piece, has tenor and soprano sax spiraling lazily over the rhythm section. "Blue Rondo A La Turk" plays the familiar theme straight but quickly accelerates into a racing tempo with Zaleski's alto crying out in a style more like Jimmy Lyons than Paul Desmond as electronics murmur in the background.

The old Joe Morello feature "Unsquare Dance" gets the most radical makeover. It starts with handclaps and honking saxophones over a hoedown groove, then moves into a slab of heavy rock guitar by Cocheo with the tune's original beat barely discernible. "They Say I Look Like God" is mostly repeating waves of saxophones plus a soulful guest vocal by Michael Mayo. Only "Fujiyama" retains the delicacy and form of the original version with Zaleski's quietly pristine alto leading the way. Dave Brubeck's music is put through major reimaging here but nothing feels out of place. These interpretations shine with their own sense of logic and beauty.

Kevin Sun
<3 Bird
Endectomorph Music
2021

On his previous album, (Un)seaworthy, (Endectomorph Music, 2020) saxophonist Kevin Sun worked his way around the solos of Lester Young. This time he immerses himself in the work of Charlie Parker but he does not play full Parker compositions. Instead he works with whatever sorts of Parker scraps catch his ear. Bird's melody fragments, chord progressions, introductions and improvisations are all part of the raw material of this music. Sun works here with a revolving cast of musicians in groups of three to five and the approaches he takes vary drastically.

The two-part "Adroitness," based on parts of Parker's "Dexterity," goes from Sun on clarinet and Christian Li on Fender Rhodes creeping through the melody to the duo flying on the same piece with bebop fluidity on tenor and piano. "Du Yi's Choir," based on "Dewey Square," is a breezy samba featuring Sun and guitarist Max Light. "Big Foot" is a flowing tenor jaunt over clanging piano and "Dovetail" is a formal clarinet and piano abstraction that is somehow related to "Yardbird Suite." Meanwhile "Schaaple from the Appel" has Sun's clarinet and Adam O'Farrill's trumpet playing bumpy unison lines that sound more like Jimmy Giuffre than Parker. It is a shock near the end when Sun, O'Farrill and Li kick off a version of "Salt Peanuts" that actually sounds like the original but that does not last long. The rhythm section begins to halt and break up the time as the horns keep racing on, making things charactersically off-center. Bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor play throughout the album and they deserve special mention for keeping up with all these wild experiments. Charlie Parker's music was all about finding new ways to play jazz and this exploration of his legacy keeps that constantly in mind.

Tracks and Personnel

Our Time: Reimagining Dave Brubeck

Tracks: Blue Rondo a la Turk; The Duke; Softly, William, Softly; Unsquare Dance; They Say I Look Like God; The Golden Horn; Fujiyama.

Personnel: Mark Zaleski: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jon Bean: tenor saxophone; Glenn Zaleski: piano; Mark Cocheo: guitar; Danny Weller: bass; Oscar Suchanek: drums; Michael Mayo: vocal (5).

<3 Bird

Tracks: Greenlit; Adroitness, Part I; Adroitness: Part II; Composite; Onomatopoeia; Dovetail; Cheroot; Du Yi's Choir; Big Foot; Sturgis; Schaaple (Intro); Schaaple from the Appel; Salt Peanuts; Arc's Peel; Talck-overseed-nete (Klact-oveereds-tene).

Personnel: Kevin Sun: tenor saxophone, clarinet, sheng (8); Adam O'Farrill: trumpet (1, 10-13); Max Light: guitar(5, 8, 15); Christian Li: piano, Fender Rhodes (2-4, 6. 9, 13); Walter Stinson: double bass; Matt Honor: drums.

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