It is impossible to fully appreciate great art in one sitting. Repeat exposure, no matter how frequent, reveals new layers, fresh insights and previously missed nuances. The Passion of Charlie Parker is such a masterwork. It’s tempting to call this brilliantly realized tribute a vocal album. It does feature a remarkable assortment of singers, including Kurt Elling, Gregory Porter, Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot, Luciana Souza, Kandace Springs, emerging French chanteuse Camille Bertault, Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan and, intriguingly, actor Jeffrey Wright. But Passion is, like Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters and Bobby McFerrin’s VOCAbuLarieS, so much more.
The brainchild of producer Larry Klein, Passion is constructed upon a foundation of 10 Parker compositions, each fitted with lyrics, most written by David Baerwald. The full program, including two interludes, paints a richly hued, warts-and-all biographical portrait. Bird’s progress from neophyte to legend is mapped alongside the vocalists by seven stellar players: guitarist Ben Monder, keyboardist Craig Taborn, drummer Eric Harland (with Mark Guiliana subbing on one track), alternating bassists Scott Colley and Larry Grenadier and, in the catbird seat, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin.