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Charlie Parker: The Complete Legendary Rockland Palace Concert

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Recordings of Parker performances continue to materialize nearly 42 years after his death, and they virtually always include astonishing playing by Bird. For years, amateur tapes and bootleg LPs of some of the music from the September 1952 Rockland Palace date have floated through the underground. Their technical quality is, to put the best face on it, grossly substandard. This two-CD set is compelling not only for the stunning alto solos but for the digital re-engineering that makes the music as listenable as such execrable source material is likely to allow.

Engineer Doug Pomeroy and the Jazz Classics producers discovered that a second recorder was running during the engagement. Pomeroy married the two tapes to enhance the sound and supply previously missing music. Synchronizing the tapes and correcting the constantly fluctuating pitch must have been like trying to thread two needles at once. In one piece, Pomeroy painstakingly combined the recordings to produce a fascinating approximation of stereo.

Technical ledgermain aside, now that we can actually hear much of what happened that night, we have a priceless document of Bird at work on a dance job with his beloved string section. He used one of his best rhythm sections, Walter Bishop, Teddy Kotick and Max Roach. Further, the quintet tracks include the only known instance in which the other “horn” in a Parker front line was a guitar, played by Mundell Lowe. The tunes were from Bird’s standard repertoire of the day. There are two performances of each of several pieces. The variations he works on them in “Just Friends,” “East of the Sun,” “Repetition,” “Rocker” and several others testify to the unceasing flow of his imagination. Eleven of the 33 tracks are previously unissued. They include the strings backing Bird in “Stardust,” “Ornithology” and Gerry Mulligan’s “Gold Rush.” Lowe played at a high level, even for him. There is constant interest in Bishop’s solos and the interaction of Roach and Kotick.

A document, yes; most of all, though, this is Charlie Parker enjoying a workaday gig playing gloriously for the people.