WHAT KINDA BIRD IS THIS? / PARKER: Relaxin’ at Camarillo. Steeplechase. Ah-Leu-Cha. Parker’s Mood. Merry-Go-Round. Bongo Beep. Stupendous. Au Privave. DAVIS-RAMIREZ-LEWIS: Lover Man. BEETS: Birdie Num Num. What Kinda Bird is This? KLENNER-LEWIS; Just Friends / The Eric Ineke JazzXPress featuring Tineke Postma, a-sax / Challenge Records CR 73512 (also available for free streaming on YouTube)
The late jazz critic Ralph Berton, my personal friend for the last 20 years of his life, one said to me that he always wondered why no matter how much certain artists loved and emulated Charlie “Bird” Parker, no one really sounded like him. The answer, he felt, was that they always miss the bluesy “grit” in Bird’s own playing. They get the notes and the style right, but performing his music at a remove always seems to eliminate the energy that went into its original creation.
If that was true of the excellent studio band known as Supersax back in the 1970s, it is also true of this new release by drummer Eric Ineke and his JazzXpress. It’s not that the performances aren’t good—they clearly are—so much as that they present Bird’s music without Bird’s feeling. And it’s not really a matter of tempo or accent, although the drummer on the original recording of Stupendous has a bit more variety in his beat than Ineke does. There’s just more energy in Parker’s original recordings than in anyone’s remakes.
With that being said, the JazzXpress is clearly a world-class jazz band and does its job with love and energy. And, if nothing else, it reminds us just how innovative Parker’s music was, coming as it did out of the Swing Era but redistributing the beats in the rhythm to produce an entirely new form of jazz music. Parker and Thelonious Monk were the twin geniuses who influenced whole schools of jazz musicians in the decades to come, with Dizzy Gillespie in the #3 spot.
The principal soloist in the role of Bird here is Tineke Postma. She does a good job by and large, but gets no closer to Bird’s real style than did Sonny Stitt or Phil Woods during Parker’s own lifetime. Parker, who was emulated by several alto players, one complimented the late Lee Konitz for not trying to sound like him. Konitz’ line was, “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the only reason I didn’t play like him was that his shit was too hard for me to play!” Parker’s “shit” is quite obviously not too hard for Postma to play, and to her credit there are moments here and there where she captures some of the edginess of Bird’s own playing, but just not consistently enough to hit the mark squarely.
I might also add that the JazzXpress’ rhythm section plays a beat much closer to swing than to bop, despite the fact that three different pianists are used (Peter Beets, Rein de Graaff & Rob Agerbeek). On Lover Man, one of Bird’s worst but most popular records (he made it while having a nervous breakdown, just before going into Camarillo State Hospital in California to wean himself off heroin), Postma plays with just bass and drums to excellent effect, and it is here, as well as in Parker’s Mood which is a quartet performance, that she comes the closest to sounding like Bird without copying anything from his original solos.
And yet, as I say, it’s great to make oneself relisten to Bird’s music. Even the new pieces dedicated to him, Birdie Num Num and What Kinda Bird is This?, sound so much like older bop pieces that you just fall into believing it. Ah-Leu-Cha is one of the most energetic performances on the CD, with a great solo by trumpeter Ian Cleaver.
In toto, then, a very nice album, certainly worth hearing once, but not something you’ll go back to as much as Parker’s own recordings.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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