Various artists – The Passion of Charlie Parker

REVIEW: Various artists - The Passion of Charlie Parker

Various artists – The Passion of Charlie Parker (Impulse)

Unlike many tribute albums, The Passion of Charlie Parker does not try to emulate the sound of the honored artist. Rather, the music suggests Bird’s emotional journey, ranging from his nervous breakdown in Los Angeles to his loving relationship with Chan, his last wife.

Most of the pieces begin and end with sung versions of Parker classics — e.g., “Ornithology,” “Scrapple From the Apple,” “Moose the Mooche” — featuring lyrics by David Baerwald that narrate the alto legend’s tumultuous history. To create depth and range, producer Larry Klein selected nine premiere vocalists. They include well-known jazz singers Kurt Elling, Melody Gardot, Madeleine Peyroux, Gregory Porter and Luciana Souza; up-and-coming artists Kandace Springs and Camille Bertault, who more than hold their own; classically trained musician Barbara Hannigan, who nevertheless can swing; and Emmy Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright.

Even within this vocal framework, the instrumentalists take charge. Guitarist Ben Monder and keyboardist Craig Taborn create an ambiance that often sounds eerie and mystical, like shadows in a dense forest. But it’s tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin who emerges as the album’s brightest light. Serpentine and unexpected, his lines sound almost breathless as he escorts the listener through impressionistic journeys.

But that’s not to diminish the excellent contributions of the singers. There’s not a sour note by any of them, and their brief appearances include many memorable moments: Souza’s angular exchanges with McCaslin and Taborn on “Every Little Thing” (a vocal version of “Bloomdido”); Porter’s elegant and leisurely phrasing on “Yardbird Suite”; Wright’s impressive balance between song and spoken word on “So Long” (“K.C. Blues”); and Bertault’s crisp, articulate scat singing on “Après Vous” (“Au Privave”), which closes the album in celebratory fashion.

Sascha Feinstein

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