BIRD IS THE WORD…Luciana Souza, Madeleine Peyroux, Gregory Porter, Kurt Elling, etc: The Passion of Charlie Parker

Here is a great idea, with almost a perfect cast of characters. Producer Larry Klein celebrates the music and life of Charlie Parker by using the famed alto saxist’s songs for vehicles of musical narration by an A team of singers. With Madeleine Peyroux doing a slow and simmering “Ornithology” as “Meet Charlie Parker,” Gregory Porter slowing down “Yardbird Suite” to a soulful strut, Luciana Souza gently articulating “Bloomdido” via “Every Little Thing” and Kurt Elling waxing eloquence like a guide on a “Moose the Mooch’d” “Los Angeles,” the recipe seems like a sure winner.

The major problem is that instead of the logical choice of accompaniment by an alto saxist, the team of Ben Monder/g, Mark Giuliana-Eric Harland/dr, Scott Colley-Larry Grenadier/b and Craig Taborn/p-key is lead by a TENOR saxist, Donny McCaslin. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love this guy. The problem is that the choice is like selecting Luciano Pavarotti to play the vocal role for Maria Callas. The whole team is as dark as the shadows on Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Bird, with only Kandace Springs’ percussive “My Little Blue Suede Shoes,” Melody Gardot’s “Scrapple From the Apple” and the clever take of Camile Bertault singing French on “Au Privave” displaying any semblance of joy and enthusiasm. Most of the atmosphere is as noir as Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity. If you never heard anything by Bird, would this entice you? Hmmm.

Impulse! Records

1 comment for “BIRD IS THE WORD…Luciana Souza, Madeleine Peyroux, Gregory Porter, Kurt Elling, etc: The Passion of Charlie Parker

  1. larryklein1
    July 17, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Dear George-
    Thank you for your review of “The Passion Of Charlie Parker”. However, I must tell you that in specifying the use of tenor sax instead of alto sax as the major problem, you are just about completely missing the point of the project. This is not a tribute album. There have been more than enough tributes to Bird. There have also been more than enough albums of his songs with people trying to emulate him stylistically. This is an examination of him as a amazing and tragic archetypal figure, thus the use of the term “passion” to describe impressionistic “play” of his life. Whether we are discussing Bird, Van Gogh, Jimi Hendrix, or Hank Williams, there is a common thread among innovators who are candles burning too brightly. The artist ahead of his time has a heavy load to bear, whether he is painting with words, oil paints or music. The use of tenor sax was purposeful, so as not to play the game of emulating Bird, which is a rather trivial pursuit, and which he would laugh at were he still alive. The one thing that he would not be doing if he was still with us would be to play like he used to play. He was a far too restless force, and already tiring of what bebop had become by the time of his death.
    Again, thank you for taking the time to review the album, but I think that if you go back and listen again, and specifically to the words that David Baerwald and I put to this music, you will find that there is much more there than you initially saw.
    Thank You,

Leave a Reply