Saturday, October 10, 2020

CD Review: Fumi Tomita - Celebrating Bird / A Tribute To Charlie Parker & The Claire Daly Band - Rah! Rah!

Ah, the jazz tribute album. A way to ensure that a musician's debt to the forefathers will be acknowledged, while at the same time, giving a player an extra boost of attention via association with said the masters. 

Cynicism aside, it's hard to blame a musician for going down this path. It's hard to get one's name out there, to a level where us jaded critics will say, "Oh! A new album by them. Better put that at the top of the pile." (I know they're not player for just for us, really.) Like everything, it's all in how the music is performed. Lean too close to the original and what's the point? Transpose it into a different setting and it feels like a (musical) fish out of water. Besides, after playing your own music, it can be fun to do someone's tunes, so why not give it a shot?

Fumi Tomita featuring David Detweiler
Celebrating Bird/A Tribute to Charlie Parker

August 29 marked the centennial of Charlie Parker's birth, which has been on everyone's radar since January. Bassist Fumi Tomita celebrates the occasion by doing something that Parker himself did in his prime: appropriating the chord changes of some tunes - in this case written by Bird - and using them as the canvas for new melodies. These are a little more grounded in tradition than Rudresh Mahanthappa's bold Bird Calls but it's still a good way of paying tribute and putting your ideas out there simultaneously. Not all them are obvious and neither aren't drawn just from Parker's signature works. I'm still not sure of the origin of "Waltz Of the Moon," but Art Hirahara leaps into the upbeat ballad, left-hand chords inspiring his right hand, so by then the source is secondary.

Writing credits are split evenly between Tomita and tenor saxophonist David Detweiler. The bassist enjoys playing the melody lines with the tenor, which he does in the two blues, "Oceanology" and "Alice Changes" (the latter an easy source giveaway for Bird fans). "Like Sigmund," a contrafact of "Segment," has a cool minor slink to it, that leads right into a bass solo that's heavy on melody with a good use of space. When Detweiler gets his solo time in this track, he adopts a smoky tone that makes sure he stands out after Tomita and Hirahara. 

Along with "Waltz," the saxophonist also recasts Neal Hefti's "Repetition" with a mid-tempo Latin groove, eating up the changes and rising above a performance by the rhythm section that feels a bit placid. Tomita's performance on the whole album never lets listeners forget who's leading the session, but his instrument could have been a little more present in the mix. The same goes for drummer Jimmy Macbride. He finally gets the spotlight in the closing "Bird Dreams" but he support work sits a little far in the background when a little push forward could have added some extra bite. Still it's good to hear a group think outside the box when it comes to Charlie Parker. 

The Claire Daly Band
Rah! Rah!

Bird isn't the only one who would have celebrated a milestone birthday this year. Had he lived, Rahsaan Roland Kirk would have marked 75 trips around the sun. Baritone saxophonist/flutist Claire Daly sees it as a good reason to celebrates the eccentric musician's life. 

Kirk's ability to play two or three saxophones at once, sing while blowing the flute, and other flamboyant tricks sometimes distracted audiences from the amazing technique and encyclopedic musical knowledge that he possessed. (Or at least that has been written about him in retrospect. Modern liner notes go out at length about Kirk being misunderstood but it seems like dispatches at the time had an appreciation for Kirk's talent.) Rather than attempt to recreate his instrumentation, Daly sticks to one horn and a flute, preferring to salute his compositions.

She opens with her own "Blue Lady" which reworks Kirk's "Lady's Blues." It's a languid opener, with a straightforward swing that evokes a Count Basie groove. On flute, she transforms "Bright Moments" into "Momentus Brighticus," a solid waltz driven by bassist Dave Hofstra's steady groove. Daly puts her spin on the original's call-and-response toward the end but the group seems to approach it cautiously when a little reckless abandon would have been in order. 

Among the Kirk originals, she comes close to singing into the flute on "Serenade to Cuckoo" but just for a second, preferring to develop a melodic solo. "Volunteered Slavery" was originally a semi-gospel/soul tune with a vocal that went into a full band groove, borrowing a melody from the Beatles (the same group Kirk would decry a few years later for coming into the US and "taking all the bread," but that's another story). Daly and the band dig into the song's boogaloo potential and her baritone cuts loose here. But instead of going into a rave-up, they detour into a version of Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People," with the saxophonist singing a chorus. The group could have really dug harder into the song's one-chord vamp but again they hold back. Daly hasn't a decent of pipes, but her take on "Alfie," later in the album, puts them to better use. 

Yet the group kicks up some fire in other places. Frank Foster's "Simone" and Charlie Parker's "Blues for Alice" both feature some meaty baritone work, with pianist Eli Yamin providing good contrast with Daly. "Funk Underneath" (originally a lowdown blues recorded with Jack McDuff) and "Theme for the Eulipions" (from his later period) are two deeper Kirk cuts that give Daly a little more time to show some grit on flute and baritone, respectively.  By closing with "I'll Be Seeing You" she really taps into the duality of Kirk - taking an old tune and polishing it to show off its charm while making the song feel like a personal message to listeners. Nice wrap-up.

No comments: