Umbria Jazz 07 at Birdland Presents: Francesco Cafiso and "Charlie Parker with Strings"

Budd Kopman By

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Umbria Jazz 07—New York: Francesco Cafiso and Charlie Parker with Strings
New York City
Saturday, June 30, 2007

Enzo Capua of Umbria Jazz teamed up with the Italian Cultural Institute and Birdland to present a project honoring the heralded and seminal Charlie Parker recordings with strings originally produced on Clef (later Verve) by Norman Granz. Saturday night, the last of a week-long stay at Birdland, was virtually sold out. For some added excitement, Maria Schneider and Wynton Marsalis were in attendance.

Whatever one thinks of the original recordings with strings that Charlie Parker made, with the exception of Neal Hefti's "Repetition" from December 1947, between November 1949 and January 1952 (available on both Verve and Definitive), deference must go to Parker's decision to do them. While there is general agreement that the arrangements were "poor" (Gary Giddens in Visions of Jazz) to "saccharine" (Ted Gioia in The History of Jazz), Parker's own playing is lauded and he seemed to like the results, even if the final product did not live up to his initial dreams.

In any case, this project presented the music from these recordings with slightly reworked arrangements as fourteen three to four-minute tunes (starting with "Just Friends," which was a hit for Parker), plus one quartet-only piece and a replaying of Cole Porter's "What Is Thing Called Love?" as an encore.

The string orchestra played well enough, despite some pitch problems here and there, and one could see the orchestra members getting into the rhythmic drive of jazz. However, when played one after another, this many romantic standards, no matter how beautiful they are, and no matter how well saxophonist Franceso Cafiso played, began to become cloying.

Regardless of the overall effect, Franceso Cafiso blew up a storm and showed why, at age fourteen (four years ago), he was asked by Marsalis to play in his septet during a 2003 European tour.

Cafiso's is an enormous talent, independent of his youth. He has complete mastery of his horn, including a gorgeous vibrato, and managed to stay inside the arrangements while sounding free as a "Bird."

The encore piece with just the quartet allowed Cafiso to let go, and the torrents of razor-sharp sound, edging into free jazz were astounding. Birdland would do well to book Cafiso himself.

Personnel: Francesco Cafiso: alto sax; Riccardo Arrighini: piano; Aldo Zunino: bass; Stefano Bagnoli: drums with I Solisti di Perugia (strings + oboe/English horn, French horn and harp).

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