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Charles McPherson with Strings: A Tribute to Charlie Parker

Jazz fans are divided over jazz with strings attached. Even Charlie Parker, who employed strings from 1949-1954 and whose Bird With Strings is now regarded as a classic, wasn’t immune to charges of selling out. With historical interest taking hold in jazz more and more these days, it isn’t surprising that someone would revisit the original Bird With Strings arrangements. According to press information, the idea belonged to Clarion’s Leonard Herring Jr., and he wanted Charles McPherson, who had played some of Parker’s alto parts on the soundtrack to the Clint Eastwood film Bird.

McPherson, at first reluctant, finally agreed and a concert was set up at Cleveland State University in 2001. This album was taken from that concert. The result is that the altoist sounds both Bird-like and like himself-meaning that this isn’t a total copycat job and that McPherson’s integrity as a player comes across. The Bird recording had Parker flitting in and out of the string arrangements-performances that sound more integrated and flexible than if he had simply played the heads all the way through with strings backing him and then taken off on a full 32-bar solo or whatever. McPherson faced the challenge of entering and exiting at the same places Bird did and yet bringing something fresh to the charts. He succeeds admirably.

The program includes the original Joe Lippman, Jimmy Carroll and Mitch Miller charts on “If I Should Lose You,” “Everything Happens to Me,” “I’ll Remember April,” “Just Friends” (perhaps Parker’s most memorable string recording) and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” plus a new Randy Porter chart on “Yardbird Suite.” (Porter is the pianist in McPherson’s quartet, which also includes bassist Jeff Littleton and drummer Charles McPherson Jr.). Throughout, McPherson captures Bird’s tone and liquid phrasing, and he offers multinoted bebop embellishments aplenty and, at times, a heated rhythmic drive. Considering the heavy iconic strings attached to this project, the album both honors Bird and elevates McPherson’s stature.

Originally Published