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April 2008

Marcus Printup
Bird of Paradise: The Music of Charlie Parker
SteepleChase

A generation ago, tribute albums to Charlie Parker often featured extended passages of Bird’s solos transcribed for one or more horns, or bands mirroring the traditional Parker bebop small groups of alto sax, trumpet, piano, bass and drums. And musicians on them paid close homage to Parker by playing in a decidedly neo-bop style. You won’t find much, if any, of that here.

Trumpeter Marcus Printup presents a repertoire of tunes written and/or performed by Parker, many of them familiar Bird lines. But Printup’s band (Kengo Nakamura, bass; Shinnosuke Takahashi, drums) eliminates piano; the only additional chording instrument is Riza Hequibal’s harp on five of the 11 tracks, but it comps on only three. Saxophonist Ted Nash is on nine tracks, but he’s mainly on tenor, playing alto on only two. And instead of the razzle-dazzle breathless excitement of charging through the changes of classic bop, Printup and Nash solo with more tonal and timbral variety, sacrificing sheer velocity for expressive sounds and fewer notes. It’s a creatively fertile way to revisit Bird’s music.

That music is still memorable and welcome today, as Printup reminds us with the delightfully sly “Quasimodo,” Bird’s tongue-in-cheek title for his invention on the chords of “Embraceable You,” and that tricky, swirling blues line “Bird Feathers.” Printup gives a twist to two of Parker’s most familiar tunes, adding a harp and bass intro to “Now’s the Time” (source of “The Hucklebuck”) and heraldic harp intro and coda to “Parker’s Mood,” an iconic Bird line the trumpeter plays himself, also soloing personally, letting Nash’s tenor reference Bird’s famed solo. “Stupendous” (on “’S Wonderful” changes) opens the CD with a less-familiar line that Printup and Nash tear into, sharing and overlapping ideas in a sequence of fours and tandem exchanges. Their speedy workout on “Confirmation” is another highlight, featuring Nash’s most Bird-like alto outing. Printup’s two takes on “Lover Man,” one open, one muted, with just the rhythm section and comping harp, are emotionally resonant ballad interludes.

Originally published in April 2008
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