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Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings (1944-1948)

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Anyone without at least a casual knowledge of Charlie Parker’s Savoy and Dial recordings is probably not reading JazzTimes. They are the jazz equivalent of the New Testament, the founding texts of post-World War II jazz and the basis for everything-from Miles Davis to Ornette Coleman-that followed. And like the New Testament, they frequently surface in new editions.

So what justifies yet another one-this time a repackaging of a repackaging (the 2002 Savoy CD box)? Simply put, vinyl is hot, a surprising profit center for the struggling record industry. That’s all the reason the label needs to issue this 10-LP collection, or that audiophiles and completists need to buy it. For less diehard fans, there are pluses and minuses, especially for those who already own Savoy’s CD set (or one of the others).

Naturally, the music is the main attraction. Complete Savoy and Dial includes not only Parker’s sessions as a leader and his wheel-reinventing 1945 dates with Dizzy Gillespie, but also three early sideman appearances (with Tiny Grimes in 1944, Red Norvo and Slim Gillard in 1945); his tenor work on Miles Davis’ 1947 bandleader debut; the famous bootleg from Bird’s homecoming party following his release from Camarillo State Mental Hospital; and all the false starts and incomplete or alternate takes. Digitally remastered and pressed on 180-gram vinyl, the 217 tracks don’t at this point offer any undiscovered insights save one: that LP fetishists who insist on the format’s superior sound might have a point. The earliest sessions are still a little tinny, but most-especially from the 1947 “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” session onward-have never sounded better.

And it’s still great fun to listen to these sessions in their entirety. The sequencing-all of the master takes first, then the alternates for each tune in succession-doesn’t always enable scrutiny. However, those who are familiar with legendary solos like “Embraceable You” or “Parker’s Mood” will notice the contrasts between various run-throughs, and in the case of “Parker’s Mood,” how the improvisation on the master (take 5) takes shape over the previous takes.

Then there’s the packaging itself, which doesn’t have nearly as much to recommend it. The records come in flimsy cardboard sleeves, washed in earth tones; they’re attractive, but tough to dig out without wrinkling the corners. Or, worse yet, without splitting the not-much-sturdier outer box. (Two corners of this writer’s copy ripped within a week.)

Since the box is, again, a repackaging of a repackaging, it inevitably reproduces the previous edition’s accompanying booklet (with essays by Orrin Keepnews, Ira Gitler, James Patrick and Bill Kirchner, plus an old interview with Parker’s Savoy producer Teddy Reig). But they might’ve had something extra-new or different photos? A fresh appreciation, perhaps from a musician who’s come to prominence since 2002?-to distinguish it from the CD set. That it’s all but identical, 13 years after its counterpart, suggests cynicism on Savoy’s part: Sound quality notwithstanding, the set has little reason to exist other than to exploit collectors.

Originally Published