Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Charlie Parker - Yardbird in Lotus Land

Charlie Parker - one of my earliest jazz heroes, and arguably the most sophisticated improviser in jazz history. I have almost everything he ever recorded on my shelves: all the studio recordings, all the legitimately-issued live recordings, and most of the bootlegs. However, most of all that is on CD; I only have a few of Bird's LPs left. This British LP seems like a random collection of late 1945-early 1946 live recordings from Parker's stay on the West Coast. But really, this is as fine a 50 minutes of Bird as any on records.

Spotlite earned the gratitude of every jazz fan in the 1970s, when they issued Charlie Parker's Dial label recordings complete and in chronological order on six LPs. Before that, these important recordings were scattered - issued in haphazard fashion on a variety of labels, legitimate and otherwise. Spotlite didn't stop with with the Dials; they issued many live Parker recordings in the best possible sound. The albums were hard to find in the U.S., but the hipper record stores carried them, and they could always be special ordered.

The sound on Yardbird in Lotus Land is pretty good, for the most part. Most of side one is professionally recorded, from AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service) broadcasts by the Dizzy Gillespie group featuring Parker and by an all-star alto saxophone lineup, with Benny Carter and Willie Smith. Two short tracks are of the rough bootleg quality serious Parker collectors are used to. Side two is an amazing live set from the short-lived Finale Club in Los Angeles, with young Miles Davis on trumpet and the legendary Joe Albany, a somewhat shadowy figure, on piano. Albany was a gifted, very individual jazzman, who barely recorded until his comeback in the 1970s. The Finale session is valuable for Parker's presence, of course, but even more so for a rare glimpse of Joe Albany.

Here's the AFRS all-star alto sax summit, with the Nat Cole Trio and Buddy Rich as the rhythm section. The stilted, scripted intro is funnier because it's so bungled. Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman is the M.C.

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