T.K. Blue: Latin Bird

On Latinbird, which is exactly what it says it is, alto saxophonist T.K. Blue gets the recipe right. He picks some great Charlie Parker tunes (plus two originals and “‘Round Midnight”), gives them skillful Latin arrangements of all varieties, and assembles a crack ensemble of pianist Theo Hill, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet, drummer Willie Martinez and percussionist Roland Guerrero to perform them. So why does the album feel so utterly bland? For starters, the material is such well-trodden ground that there is little left to do with it. Bird’s oeuvre has been rendered as Latin jazz-not least by Bird himself-such that there’s really no novelty here. (A Caribbean-spiced version of a tune called “Barbados”? Who’d have guessed?) And what new insight is to be gained from yet another straight Latin reading of “Donna Lee” or “‘Round Midnight”?

More specifically, the performances themselves are generic. Hill’s salsa piano (“Chi Chi,” “Buzzy”) is stale, as is Martinez and Guerrero’s rhythmic interplay (“Visa,” “Bluebird”). Blue does some nice solo work, notably on “Si Si,” though it’s nothing particularly fresh or unpredictable. A guest spot by drummer Lewis Nash is largely wasted on low-lying accompaniment during “‘Round Midnight” and a lifeless solo on “Moods of Parker,” a version of, you guessed it, “Parker’s Mood.” Trombonist Steve Turre, on the other hand, provides an audible shot in the arm, especially with his conch-shell blowing on “Chi Chi.” Still, the best description for Latinbird is “professional.” Not bad, you say, but in jazz that term often translates to “mediocre.”