Is it possible to be too reverent to one's roots? Over the course of three prior releases for Blue Note, Italian saxophonist Stefano di Battista has honoured a number of players who have informed his music, including Art Pepper, Cannonball Adderley, and Johnny Hodges. But whereas previous discs have delivered homage in the context of largely original compositions, di Battista has chosen for his fourth outing '(only the second to be released in North America) to deliver a direct and heartfelt tribute to Charlie Parker, one of but a handful of artists who can be said to have truly changed the face of jazz. The result, which even includes note-by-note recreation in two instances, might be considered too specific, too immediate; yet for all its clear references, di Battista is unquestionably his own man, with a style that is infused by his influences rather than being directly imitative.
It's no surprise, after hearing di Battista's '98 recording A Prima Vista , that drummer Elvin Jones enlisted him for one of his last incarnations of the Jazz Machine. Sadly the result of this collaboration was never documented, as it might have given di Battista the recognition in North America that has largely eluded him. Still, with his decisive playing on Parker's Mood and a strong push by Blue Note, it's just possible that di Battista might acquire some of the acknowledgement that he has garnered in Europe. And by enlisting a group that combines long-time associates bassist Rosario Bonaccorso and, on four tracks, trumpeter Flavio Boltro with more well-established American playersdrummer Herlin Riley and, most notably, pianist Kenny Barron'di Battista has upped the name recognition for American audiences, while at the same time retaining the comfort level of working with familiar faces.
The group literally bursts out of the gate with a particularly high-energy and uncommonly concise reading of Dizzy Gillespie's classic "Salt Peanuts."? In fact, with the exception of di Battista's ten-minute long reading of the Gershwin chestnut "Embraceable You,"? which is taken at an unusually slow tempo, most of the ten tracks are surprisingly short. While the original bebop masters were known to take extended solos, di Battista chooses, instead, to capture the spirit of the form without digression or excess.
Still, there's plenty of room for everyone to shine. Since coming to attention with the late French pianist Michel Petrucciani, Di Battista, while still relatively young, has developed into a mature player with the kind of lithe and deft style that allows him to run rampant over a burning look at Parker's "Donna Lee,"? while turning in a tender and lyrical reading of Monk's "'Round Midnight."? Barron is his usual intelligent and empathic self, while Boltro matches di Battista's verve on the Latin-inflected "Hot House."?
So, can one be too reverent to one's roots? Perhaps, but with Parker's Mood di Battista makes it clear that homage can be made without sacrificing one's individuality by delivering a well-known song list with awareness, commitment, and vitality.
1. Salt Peanuts;
2. Embraceable You;
3. Night In Tunisia;
4. Parker's Mood;
6. Donna Lee;
8. Hot House;
9. Congo Blues;
10. 'Round Midnight.
Stefano Di Battista - soprano and alto saxophone; Flavio Boltro - trumpet; Kenny Barron - piano; Rosario Bonaccorso - bass; Herlin Riley - drums.