Wednesday, June 23, 2010

album of the day: Bird and Diz

These recordings of the great bebop tandem of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were central to my introduction to modern jazz, back at UNC Charlotte. They document the last time Bird and Diz recorded together in a studio, all recorded apparently on one day in June 1950.

The set is typical bebop: two blues, two songs based on the changes to "I Got Rhythm," two other tunes of uncertain provenance, and a pop standard. The setting is also typical bebop: rhythm section, trumpet and sax.

Two things stick out about this album. One is the presence of Buddy Rich on drums. He wasn't a bebop drummer. Far from it, as his out-of-place and sometimes genuinely disorienting solos on these tracks make clear. He was a terrific swing drummer, but therein lies the problem. Most critical appraisal of these recordings counts Rich as their main flaw, which I wouldn't deny. I know I read once somewhere that the only reason these recordings happened is that having Rich on the set was the cost producer Norman Granz demanded to record the rest of them. This is almost assuredly nonsense, since Granz's Verve records was Parker's home at the time, and Granz reveled in recording Bird with all kinds of backgrounds. I also read that Rich insisted on playing, and that Parker (who was the leader) was in a mood not to care.

The other point of interest is the presence of Thelonious Monk on piano. Holy jumpin', do I adore Thelonious Monk. He is indeed another hero of mine... but I'll leave that for another day. Though he's under-recorded here, and has little space for solos, he leaves an indelible impression. While Rich's solos disorient by being out-of-place, Monk's comping and other fiddly bits he gets to do provide a constant jostle, keeping things from being settled.

Not that "being settled" is ever a good description of bebop - which is why I love it so much. Parker and Gillespie gleefully trounce all over these tunes, pulling off incredible feats of filigree and musical tension, then tossing off humorous musical quotations or riffs. The fine recording quality capture the devil-may-care attitude of the music, which always so carefully hid the serious, even studious musicianship and composition that went into the solos.

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