The Bird Up
CD is credited to a collective entity known as "The Charlie Parker Remix Project.... " Well, how provocative is that? The answer, I suppose, depends on how you take it. Really, the whole idea of remixing and reworking the classic Savoy recordings of Charlie Parker in light of current technology and musical trends is risky at the very least. Does Bird really need to be remixed and recontextualized? It’s offensive to even suggest such heresy Parker always has been and will remain an icon of hipness. But who says this is about making bebop cool for the kids? Listened to without prejudice, Bird Up
comes across as an interesting collaboration by very different musicians with the jazz of Charlie Parker and his associates as the jumping off point. One emerges from the experience with both renewed respect for Bird’s genius as well as admiration for the new visions expressed by the Remix Project.
Producer Matthew Backer has assembled an impressive cast from all across the musical spectrum to reinterpret the original music artists from hip-hop and dance music like RZA and producer Dan the Automator are featured alongside distinguished jazz players like Hubert Laws & Ravi Coltrane, generations of rockers from Garth Hudson of the Band to System of a Down singer Serj Tankian, as well the genre-bending classical ensemble the Kronos Quartet. Some tracks are more successful than others, but the CD overall has a good flow. Some tracks aren’t much more than old recordings augmented by electronic beats and/or raps, while others are radically worked over. "Salt Peanuts (The Mr. Peanut Chronicles)" certainly fits into the latter category, with Hal Willner overseeing a jam by Dr. John and the Kronos Quartet along with Bird & Diz’s original recording of "Salt Peanuts." The effect is oddly reminiscent of the Hot Club of France and is one of the album’s most stunning tracks. Two separate tracks are graced by the lines of flautist Hubert Laws, himself a pioneering figure in the history of what has become known as hip-hop by virtue of his early seventies collaborations with Gil Scott-Herron. Me’shell NdegeOcello and Raymond Angry add some nice grooves on "Relaxin’ at Camarillo (August 29)."
In general, I found the more experimental tracks were satisfying, and I didn’t feel the lion’s share of the vocals added much. The abstract nature of bebop is part of its core appeal; Red Hawk chanting "Now’s the Time" on the opening "Now’s the Time (No Time Like Now)" slightly weakened the effect of the actual song "Now’s the Time," though I liked Deke Damascus’s soprano sax and some of the production flourishes on that track. I did, however, enjoy the use of found voices (especially the sample of the Muppet Burt) by Dan the Automator on "Steeplechase (Sittin’ on 22s)."
Hip-hop and jazz have, at best, an ambiguous relationship. There have been groups like Diggable Planets who have successfully integrated the two forms, and it is possible to trace a lineage between the two musics through proto-rappers like Herron and the Last Poets. One, however, can easily take that too far I mean, if you are finding extensions of bebop in, say, gangsta rap, you’ve probably tortured a lot of logic in the process. In any case, what reemerges in this reimagining of Charlie Parker is the power of his brand of jazz as popular music. The liner notes by Touré make reference to jazz as "American Classical music," but that’s missing the point entirely apart from being unfairly dismissive of composers like Cage, Copeland, Adams, Glass, et al, who actually write music that deserves that title, something like "Now’s the Time" has no pretense of being other than popular music. There are exceptions in the jazz canon--pieces like Ellington’s "Black, Brown and Beige" and Davis & Evans’ "Sketches of Spain" explicitly work in a classical framework but the rhythm of bebop, like the rhythm of hip hop or dance music, is about getting you to move. Bird Up
will make you tap your feet and maybe get up off your.... seat and dance, all with the melodic and harmonic richness unique to jazz.