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Stefano Di Battista: Stefano Di Battista: Parker's Mood

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If you've seen the title, you've probably got this one figured out. Parker's Mood , Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista's fourth Blue Note CD as a leader, is a Charlie Parker tribute. Di Battista's usual bassist and trumpeter Rosario Bonaccorso and Flavio Boltro are teamed up for this session with the Stateside duo of pianist Kenny Barron and Jazz at Lincoln Center powerhouse drummer Herlin Riley for a collection of Birdsongs that stick pretty closely to the originals. Interestingly, the closer they hew, the more successful they are.

Di Battista usually features his alto and his soprano playing on his recordings, but not so surprisingly, he sticks to alto here. Boltro only plays on four of the ten songs, and it's probably for the best: his muted, nasal trumpet lines just aren't up to the level of the other musicians (he and Di Battista sound great on the unison ensemble heads, though). This rhythm section is a dream team that doesn't just look good on paper; Barron and Riley make the tempos cook and while Bonaccorso's a more subtle presence, his bass lines blend marvelously with Riley's more ostentatious style.

Nothing on Parker's Mood matches the intensity of the original Parker recordings, and to do so is probably not possible; bebop is very much a product of a time and place and nothing sounds as bracing as when it's actually being invented on the spot. Riley avoids playing any Max Roach-style accenting "bombs" that might turn the session into an exercise in bebop parody and Barron's too fully formed and original a musician to sound like anyone but Kenny Barron. Di Battista, though, goes all the way into channeling Bird, ripping through those upper-interval Parker licks with a complete joy and lack of self-consciousness that suggests he's been working harder previously not playing them than just giving up and being Bird.

In any case, it's the up-tempo numbers where Di Battista sounds the least like himself and it's here where, oddly, the music really excels. The hard-charging "Confirmation" is out-and-out thrilling, the leader surging over the tightly-coiled rhythm section. "Donna Lee" is better, though, culminating in short, exchanged soloing between Di Battista, Barron and the stunning Riley.

The ballads don't come off quite as well. Although "Embraceable You" has some typically singing soloing from Barron, its nine-and-a-half minutes are just too long; Di Battista manages to play every note on his horn here, but we'd be better off with a few less. The group doesn't quite gel on the title cut, either; Di Battista gets nice and bluesy here (sounding at times more like Cannonball Adderley than Bird) and Barron's comping is as majestic as ever, but the parts don't combine to engage the listener and the exercise falls flat. The exception is "Laura," a ballad where everything goes perfectly: Di Battista's soloing on the song's final tag is incantatory, joyous, and utterly right. Here, too, his style and Bird's form a transcendent synthesis; you can almost see the other musicians glancing at each other wide-eyed.

Parker's Mood isn't a perfect album. When it succeeds, however—mostly on its up-tempo material—it's absolutely terrific. One also has the impression that Di Battista needed to work the Bird out of his system to reach the next level of being, well, himself. I'll be making a point of listening to find out what that next level will sound like.

Track Listing: 1. Salt Peanuts 2. Embraceable You 3. A Night in Tunisia 4. Parker's Mood 5. Confirmation 6. Donna Lee 7. Laura 8. Hot House 9. Congo Blues 10. 'Round Midnight

Personnel: Stefano Di Battista: alto saxophone; Kenny Barron: piano; Rosario Bonaccorso: bass; Herlin Riley: drums; Flavio Boltro: trumpet (#1,3,5,8 only)

Title: Stefano Di Battista: Parker's Mood | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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