Originally released in 1978 as a double LP by Tomato Records, Tribute to Bird & Monk is as revelatory now as when it was awarded a five star review in Downbeat over three decades ago. This unique tribute transcends convention, featuring a stellar cast of musicians performing under-sung German composer Heiner Stadler's polyphonic orchestrations of be-bop standards written by Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.
The lineup Stadler selected for this project spans the entire spectrum of jazz tradition. As a former Monk sideman, cornetist Thad Jones represents the old guard, while visionary AACM trombonist George Lewis symbolizes the future. Straddling both camps, multi-instrumentalist George Adams (tenor saxophone and flute) rounds out the front-line, with versatile pianist Stanley Cowell, veteran bassist Reggie Workman and powerhouse drummer Lenny White forming the pliant rhythm section. Representing a stylistically comprehensive cross-section of talent, the sextet expertly balances inside and outside aesthetics, bringing a newfound sense of innovation to the groundbreaking work of Bird and Monk.
A dramatic polytonal reconfiguration of Parker's "Air Conditioning" opens the session with a series of overlapping solos from each member of the band which progressively deconstructs the form; Lewis' voluble abstractions expand on Jones' opening lyrical refrains, which are, in turn exceeded by Adams' blistering tenor salvos. Cowell, not commonly associated with the avant-garde, demonstrates an especially adventurous sensibility in this setting. His Monkian voicings on "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are" provide a reassuring harmonic foundation at the onset of a dissonantly funky coda however, framing guest artist Cecil Bridgewater's clarion trumpet salvos as they soar into the stratosphere in collusion with Adams and Lewis' bacchanalian cadences.
Stadler reinvents the bop staple "Au Privave" as a kaleidoscopic twelve-tone collage, spotlighting Lewis' oblique phrasing as he swings in vacillating time signatures against the rhythm section's unwavering tempo. A canonical rendition of "Straight No Chaser" and similarly polytonal "Misterioso" are arranged to highlight the interpretive prowess of the rhythm section; the former even finds Jones defying expectations with a series of surprisingly fragmented variations. White's vibrant duet with Warren Smith's tympani adds a regal ambience to the later number before Workman embarks on an epic extemporization of the haunting theme. The rarely covered "Perhaps" ends the date with a colorful contrast between Adams' vocalized flute and his chromatic tenor, revealing a dynamic range encompassing the lyrical to histrionican expansive approach that encapsulates the album's overall scope.
Throughout these bold adaptations, the core melodies of each piece remain intact, proving the resilience of Bird and Monk's legacy. Proclaimed as one of the "best and most unusual albums of the year" by Jazz Magazine in 1978, this essential reissue demonstrates both the continued relevance of Parker and Monk's genius, and the often unheralded creativity of 1970s-era jazz.
Air Conditioning; Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are; Au Privave; Straight No Chaser; Misterioso; Perhaps.
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