Sep 28, 2016

Review - "Unheard Bird - The Unissued Takes"

I was thrilled when the news came out that 58 previously unknown Charlie Parker studio takes had been discovered, and would be issued by Verve. I ordered my copy of the 2-CD set as soon as it became available, and I was not disappointed. The recordings include alternate takes and incomplete takes from a number of the Parker sessions organized by Norman Granz, originally for the Mercury and Clef labels (later subsumed under the Verve label). Sessions include Parker with Machito and His Orchestra; a group with Al Haig and Kenny Dorham; Parker with strings; a Parker quartet with Hank Jones, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich; Parker's all-star session with Dizzy, Monk, Curley Russell, and Buddy Rich; the "South of the Border" session with Parker's quartet augmented by two Latin percussionists; and Parker fronting a first-rate, very tight big band.

Besides the previously unreleased alternate takes, the original released master takes of each tune have been included. It's fascinating to listen to the process that led to the finished products. In some cases the completed alternate takes are excellent in themselves; in other cases you can hear mistakes that show the players were after all only human, and adjustments being made through the takes leading up to the released master.

Here are a few observations I jotted down:

Disc 1

Tracks 1-5, Okiedoke - With Machito's Afro-Cuban band. Alto sax too high in the balance. Maybe this worked on c.1949 record players. Bird burns.

6-9, Visa - C blues.  Features Al Haig, piano, and a young Kenny Dorham on trumpet.

10-15, "Tune X," "Tune Y," "Tune Z" - Long-standing confusion about the titles of these tunes is somewhat cleared up here. Two takes of Tune X were originally released, one with the title "Diverse," another with the title "Segment." Tune Y (a C blues) and Tune Z (a different tune, with Rhythm changes), were both released under the name "Passport." Track 15, a false start labeled Tune Y on this CD, is actually Tune Z, a mislabeling that doesn't help the confusion over the titles.

Tune Z, a "Rhythm changes" piece, is the tune that appears in in the Omnibook under the title "Passport." After a number of false starts, the band tries it at a slower tempo, and gets a keeper.

24-25, If I Should Lose You - Bird With Strings. Track 24 consists of 30 seconds of false starts; track 25 is the previously released master. #24 is included as a "make-good" track; it was discovered after the release of the "Charlie Parker With Strings Deluxe Edition." Not much new here, though the previously-released master take is great.

26-28, Star Eyes - This tune, and the blues that follows, feature a 22-year-old Hank Jones, sounding very good. There is a tight, arranged intro; after false starts and one incomplete take, the band gets a good one.

29-36, Blues (Fast) - Bb blues at about mm 270. The band is Parker, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich. Although one might think that these musicians could have done a great Bb blues in one or two takes, it took them 12 tries to get to the one that was released. The album notes relate that the session engineer carefully numbered the 12 takes, including false starts; the 8 tracks included here comprise all but the (still lost) takes 9 and 10. The head and the arrangement seem to have been created in the studio. Over the course of the 10 takes preserved here, you can follow the development of both the head and the arrangement. By the end, it's a pretty tight product. Of course, this process includes many fantastic choruses of Parker playing blues in Bb.

37-38, Bloomdido (Bird, Diz, Monk, Rich, Russell) - The intro is first tried as unaccompanied piano, followed by drums, but that sets up a sloppy entrance by the horns. Monk, Buddy Rich, and the horns were not quite on the same wavelength. Dizzy muffs bar 5 a couple of times. They fix these problems by having the drums start along with the piano, and by having Diz drop out for bar 5, letting the alto sax cover it. The final result is a clean, classic take. Monk's intro is the same in every take; he seems to have worked it out in advance.

Disc 2

Tracks 1-4, An Oscar for Treadwell - Piano intro is the same for each take; again Monk seems to have prepared it in advance. Dizzy is in great form in this session. Track 3, an alternate take, is very good until the horns mess up the out-head.

5-8, Mohawk - In the first 2 takes, the horns don't have the head clean yet, and the tempo is slower. By the time they record the released master, the tempo is faster and the head is tight. Monk develops the intro over the course of the takes. In the album notes, Phil Schaap tells a story about this session that was related to him by Curly Russell, the bassist:
"...the slightly different timing mechanisms of Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich were throwing off Bird and Diz. The horn players asked the engineer if it would hurt the audio if they were repositioned so as to stare at and play directly to Curly, a steady rock and a one-man rhythm section. The adjustment was made."
9-12, My Little Suede Shoes - See this post for some details about the origin of this song. My impression of Bird's Latin recordings, including the cuts with Machito, is that Parker's solo concept doesn't always mesh as well with Latin grooves as well as it does with bop/swing. The overall ensemble groove is better in his bop combo and big-band tracks. He seems to be "feeling it" in his recordings with strings, too.

13-17, Tico Tico - A Charlie Parker choro! The drum set seems to be thinking samba here - not inappropriate, really. The tempo seems to be a little too fast for Bird to tongue repeated notes cleanly in the B section. I guess he was a single tonguer. That makes me feel a little better about my lack of double-tonguing ability.

18-19, Fiesta - Second take is faster. Parker seems quite comfortable on this "Latin" tune, maybe because it was written by Americans (Cal Massey and possibly Jimmy Heath), and possibly because the bridge to the head - as well as the entire solo form - are played swing.

20-21, Mama Inez - Nice groove, Parker is comfortable on this one too. It is a well-known tune, written in 1927 by Eliseo Grenet, a pioneer of Latin jazz - see this very interesting Wikipedia bio. Youtube has dozens of versions of Mama Inez (or "Ay, Mama Ines"), played by many artists from the 1930s to the present, in a wide variety of styles.

22-24, Night and Day - A terrific, tight big band on these last three songs. Parker is right at home.

25-27, Almost Like Being in Love - The album notes say this was composed by Cole Porter, but it's really by Lerner and Loewe.

28-31, What Is This Thing Called Love - Again, a great big band, with a tune that Parker knew inside out.

I had a great time listening to this album, many times over. For Charlie Parker fans, which ought to include all jazz fans and jazz players, this is a must-listen album. Again, you can get it here.