Charlie Parker – Bird In LA – Universal Music Group

by | May 18, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

It’s always a celebration when unreleased Charlie Parker music is unearthed.

Charlie Parker – Bird In LA – Verve Records/Universal Music Group B0029739-02 RSD Black Friday special edition 4-LP boxed set, 151:35 ****:

(Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie; Milt Jackson ; Miles Davis – complete list of musicians below)

It is nearly impossible to overstate the cultural impact of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Miles Davis had been quoted as saying…”You can tell the history of jazz in four words…Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker.” The Kansas City native often referred to as “Bird” was a trend-setting instrumentalist who pioneered bebop. His incorporation of frenetic tempo, contrafact melody interpretation and incendiary soloing revolutionized jazz. This uncompromising approach to music resonated in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. Parker became a symbol of the Beat Generation counterculture that viewed literature and music as relections of social expression, not merely entertainment. Along with other players like Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, this reinvention of jazz changed the trajectory of the genre.  With songs like Billie’s Bounce”, “Cool Blues”, “Bloomdido”, “Yardbird Suite” and “Ornithology”, Bird Changes became part of the jazz lexicon. Sadly, Charlie Parker passed away at the young age of 34.

Verve/Universal Music Group has released a 4-LP boxed set (also available on 2 CDs) of previously unreleased Charlie Parker recordings. Bird In LA chronicles Parker’s first three trips to Los Angeles (1945-1952). Side A consists of  Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra performing live at Billy Berg’s Supper Club in Hollywood. It feels like formative bebop (mostly captured in concise numbers and snippets) i with “hipster” MCs (reminiscent of Lord Buckley) doing intros. “I Waited For You/How High The Moon” showcases Gillespie, Parker and Milt Jackson with breakout solos. The jamming gets edgier on “Cement Mixer/Blues” with sudden tempo changes and the melody “takeout”. On “Groovin’ High”, Dizzy and Bird are sublime and Al Haig shines on piano. Things get amped up on Side B with the syncopated rendition of “Shaw “Nuff”. Parker cuts loose on the first solo, then Gillespie matches the ferocity. They finish in tandem. “Dizzy Atmosphere” concludes the Berg performance with Bird and Diz playing in unison and counterpoint. “Salt Peanuts” with crazy swing patterns (and chant) is anchored by Ray Brown’s muscular bass and Stan Levey’s propulsive drumming.

Portrait Charlie Parker, 1947, By William P. Gottlieb

Charlie Parker, 1947, by William Gottlieb

The remaining discs focus on Parker as band leader. Side C features the Charlie Parker Quintet (with Miles Davis) at The Finale Club. This ensemble is focused and they breeze through four exceptional songs. “Billie’s Bounce” is jaunty with Parker, Davis and pianist Joe Albany soloing. “Ornithology” is edgier as both C.P. and M.D. percolate with clear tonality and sprightly runs, switching off lead and harmony. On “All The Things That You Are”, there is a hypnotic groove as saxophone and trumpet reinvent this popular ballad with meticulous, nimble execution. Perhaps their most explosive work is on “Blue “n” Boogie”. The innate chemistry of these two legends is palpable. Side D is historically notable as The Nat “King” Cole Trio and Buddy Rich back up Bird on “Anthropology” and “Cherokee” (which is exhilarating). Bebop swagger returns in a trio of quartet numbers (“Ornithology”, “Dizzy Atmosphere” and “Out Of Nowhere”). The overall play is more freewheeling with some improvisational flair. Disc 3 (Sides E & 2 tracks on F) and (Sides G & H) are primarily comprised of Bird’s performances at the bohemian Zorthian’s Ranch in the summer of 1952. Here, the five tracks include second alto saxophone (Frank Morgan) and tenor (Don Wilkerson). The first“Scrapple In The Apple” meanders somewhat, but “Au Privave/Dance Of The Infidels” exerts unbridled energy. The two alto players seem to push each other and exchange with spirited play. The bebop standard, “Night In Tunisia” bristles with urgency and polyrhythmic vitality. The band swings relentlessly and that carries over into “How High The Moon/Ornithology”. A certain highlight is the twelve-minute cover of “Cool Blues”. One of the gems of these newly discovered recordings is an extended version of “Scrapple From The Apple”. In addition to the no-holds-barred playing of Parker, a very young Chet Baker joins the fray.

Bird In LA is an interesting glimpse into the development of a jazz master. While the audio source material is uneven, the inspiration and feel of bebop comes across. 

Performing Artists:
Charlie Parker – alto saxophone;
Dizzy Gillespie – trumpet;
Al Haig – piano;
Ray Brown – double bass;
Stan Levey – drums;
Milt Jackson – vibes;
Rudy Vallee – MC;
Ernie “Bubbles Whitman – MC;
Harry “The Hipster” Gibson – MC;
Miles Davis – trumpet;
Joe Albany – piano;
Addison Farmer – double bass;
Chuck Thompson – drums;
Willie Smith – piano;
Oscar Moore – double bass;
Johnny Miller – double bass;
Buddy Rich – drums;
Tommy Potter – double bass;
J.C. Heard – drums;
Frank Morgan – tenor saxophone;
Amos Trice – piano;
David Bailey – double bass;
Larance Marable – drums;
Chet Baker – trumpet

Side A: I Waited For You/intro How High The Moon; Handsome Harry The Hipster; Cement Mixer/intro Blues; Dizzy Atmosphere; Fifty-Second Street Theme; Groovin’ High

Side B: Shaw “Nuff; Dizzy Atmosphere; Salt Peanuts

Side C (Charlie Parker Quintet): Billie’s Bounce; Ornithology; All The Things You Are; Blue ’N’ Boogie

Side D: Anthropology; Cherokee; Ornithology; Dizzy Atmosphere; Out Of Nowhere

Side E: Scrapple From The Apple;Au Privave/Dance Of The Infidels

Side F: Night In Tunisia; How High The Moon/Ornithology; Party Chatter/Embraceable You

Side G: Hot House; Cool Blues

Side H: March Noodling/Dixie; Scrapple From The Apple; Au Privave    

—Robbie Gerson 


Album Cover for Charlie Parker - Bird In LA

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