WORD FROM BIRD (Koch Jazz KOC CD-8542) 
When I reviewed what was then available by Teddy Charles on CD elsewhere here, I mentioned that "Charles made two albums [in the Fifties] for
The album was a followup to Charles’ TENTET album for
The reason for the album is the title track, "Word From Bird." The ten-minute piece was commissioned by the South German Radio Network (Suddeutsche Rundfunk) for the 1956
"Word From Bird" was not created as a memorial to Parker – Charles bristled at that description – but rather was based on Parker’s famous recording, "Parker’s Mood." Charles takes the slow blues intro and inverts it and develops it through variations into a sophisticated work. Charles is quoted in the liner notes: "I arrived at a point where after restating the opening thematic material – ‘swing style’ – the sole musical thought which offered itself, indeed impinged totally on my consciousness, was Bird’s opening statement on ‘Parker’s Mood.’ Call it inspiration, or what you will: this thought came unbidden and would not be denied. It was so insistent that I had to use it. This incident occurred almost exactly one year after Bird’s death."
Charles adds, "From then on, the piece wrote itself, since the profound emotional and musical qualities inherent in Bird’s phrase were enough meat for several pieces. It is true that the reprise has a requiem-like quality (as noted by John Wilson in his New York Times review), but that is one of the qualities of Bird’s phrase as well as the piece’s opening ideas (when combined and played ‘mesto’). The soloists, Art Farmer in particular, naturally got the feel of this piece in their blowing and contributed greatly to the composition."
The piece was recorded by a 12-piece group (virtually an "orchestra" by modern standards) – the Tentet plus trombone and French horn. One other track on the album also uses the Tentet (minus the two extra players): Bob Brookmeyer’s "Show Time." In his liner notes, Gary Kramer calls it "a happy, up-tempo wailer that is light as a feather and as spontaneous as it can be." I’d call it a piece of fluff – and probably what the
The remainder of the album consists of what Kramer called a "lightly charted blowing session." (To be fair, he called it "a very interesting lightly charted blowing session," but….) Charles assembled a quartet for this session which consisted of himself on vibes, Hall Overton on piano, Charles Mingus on bass and Ed Shaughnessy on drums. All of these musicians had played together over the years in various combinations headed by Mingus or Charles, and were comfortable together. And they make comfortable music, absent any experimentalism or controversial approaches and not very much like the same musicians’ work together only a few years earlier (see my reviews of COLLABORATION WEST and EVOLUTION.) They cover three standards ("Laura," "When Your Lover Has Gone" and "Just One Of Those Things") and do a new blues, "Blue Greens." (The latter is the titular successor to "Green Blues" on the TENTET album, but while "Green Blues" is not a real blues in structure, "Blue Greens" is. Go figure.)
The end result is a curious hybrid of an album: what feel like leftovers from TENTET, plus a set of loose jams. That disappointed me in 1957, and it still does. Brookmeyer’s trivial "Show Time" is a major disappointment. Yet the album has undeniable high points: "Word From Bird" is as good as anything on TENTET, and even a relaxed Mingus is worth hearing, while his interplay with Charles (in the opening of "Laura," for example – an extended bass and vibes duet) is sublime.
When the TENTET album was issued on CD by
Additionally, this mono album is now available, in the Koch CD, in the HDCD format. The High Definition Compatible Digital disc is mastered at 24 bits rather than the CD-standard of 16, and although playable on any CD player is supposed to reveal additional sonic subtleties on a (much more expensive) HDCD player. The claim also exists that HDCD discs sound better even on normal CD players. The golden-eared among you will find this an additional inducement to get this disc.
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