Album Of The Week: Latin Bird, T.K. Blue

by chip on March 11, 2011

Latin Bird
T.K. Blue
Motéma Music

When a musician looks back upon the history of jazz and all the amazing personalities that fill it, their perspective informs their thoughts and eventual musical output. Everyone comes from a unique starting point, based upon their own personal experiences with music, culture, and life. Sometimes these origins bias our perspective, color our opinions, and put a different slant upon the music of our forefathers. At the same time, it can leave us open to alternative approaches to jazz or help us appreciate the most traditional ideals at the heart of the music. Our initial perspectives leave us in a position to either embrace the established musical paradigm or walk away from it vehemently. Regardless of our attitude upon entry into jazz, it’s important to consistently challenge our perspectives and force ourselves to look upon the past masters from a variety of angles. The wider the lens that we put upon our past, the more potential that we hold to move our artistry into the future. Saxophonist T.K. Blue takes a long hard look at the work of Charlie Parker on Latin Bird, examining the bebop legend’s work through a number of Latin perspectives.

Putting Parker In An Afro-Cuban Context
Blue looks at Parker through a perspective explored during the bebopper’s own lifetime, placing his compositions over Afro-Cuban rhythms. The band swings through the bluesy bebop feel of “Chi Chi,” until an abrupt stop allows Blue to shift gears with a clave driven phrase. The rhythm section explodes into a minor vamp over a charging son montuno, opening the door to impassioned solos from Steve Turre on conch shells and Blue on flute. The wind players keep the band charging forward with an energetic vamp over conguero Roland Guerrero’s rhythmic statement, stepping aside while drummer Willie Martinez dives into a fiery improvisation. Blue burns through an unaccompanied treatment of the melody on “Si Si,” joined by the rhythm section for an up-tempo son montuno second reading. Pianist Theo Hill traverses the blues form with long streams of bop fueled lines, followed by a cleverly developed improvisation from Blue that burns through rapid runs and Monk quotes. Turre races his trombone around the clave with a deft sense of phrasing before engaging Blue in an inspired exchange of ideas, followed by an attention grabbing solo from Guerrero. Overdubbed layers of Blue’s saxophone open “Buzzy” with a harmonized riff, before the saxophonist fires through the melody over a quick son montuno rhythm. There’s an inherent joy in Blue’s performance, as he wraps witty improvised lines around the clave, followed by memorable ideas from Hill and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet. The band recalls Parker’s frequent collaborator Dizzy Gillespie with a vamp from “Manteca” behind strong solos from Guerrero and Martinez. These pieces place Parker’s work in a familiar setting, lending a celebratory feel to the performances and some inspired performances.

Using Latin Settings Outside The Afro-Cuban World
Blue views Parker from a variety of different perspectives, arranging the jazz legend’s work in Latin settings outside the Afro-Cuban tradition. Okon Essiet digs into a soulful unaccompanied solo before setting up a second line groove on “Visa” and then joining Blue, Hill, and Martinez on the melody. Martinez and Guerrero engage in a funky percussion exchange that bubbles with an addictive and lively exuberance. Blue rides the energy of their groove into an interesting solo that winds through the groove while stepping in and out of the chord changes. Martinez and Guerrero establish a swaying soca groove, providing the foundation for Blue, Okon Essiet, and Hill to take a trip through the winding melody on “Barbados.” Blue, Hill, and Okon Essiet each take distinctly different improvisations over the complete form, showcasing their individual takes on the tune. The three musicians continue to trade shorter phrases, finding ingenious ways to connect their ideas into an engaging and coherent idea. Blue sets up a strutting vamp to open “Steeplechase,” leading the band into a funky version of the melody filled with quick breaks and unison rhythm section lines. The rhythm section falls into the original riff, setting the stage for Blue’s freewheeling improvisation that combines the best of the catchy groove and the familiar sound of rhythm changes. Hill mixes bluesy melodies with chordal outlines and a beautiful sense of thematic development to create an enjoyable statement. Martinez and Guerrero lay into a quick samba groove, laying the foundation for Blue, Hill, and Okon Essiet to tear through the melody on “Donna Lee.” The rhythm section cuts out, leaving Blue’s melodic sensibilities unaccompanied, allowing the band to transition into a waltz for elegant solos from Blue, Hill, and Okon Essiet. Martinez delivers a tasty statement over the 3/4 swing, showing an affinity for thematic development before moving back into samba for a cuíca solo from Guerrero. Blue’s arrangements place a distinctly new slant on Parker’s work, allowing the group to expose unknown sides to his compositions.

Stepping Outside The Established Parker Repertoire
Blue steps outside of the Parker repertoire to explore works related with the saxophonist in different ways. The band hits dramatic chords while Blue improvises expressively on “Moods Of Parker,” leading the group into a laid-back blues melody. The saxophonist works into the high register of his instrument with a gorgeous lyricism that bounces poignant melodies around the swing groove. Hill stretches his ideas with a soulful phrasing that reflects the song’s essence, leading into a beautifully understated improvisational exchange between Blue and drummer Lewis Nash. Blue pays tribute to his friend Benny Powell on a rich unaccompanied saxophone solo entitled “He Flew Away Too Soon.” Dramatic dynamic changes and expressive articulations frame Blue’s phrases throughout the piece, balanced with flights of Parker influenced bebop. There’s a lot of depth and compositional integrity to the piece, anchored by an evolving theme that carries Blue’s thought from beginning to end. Blue opens Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” with a potent unaccompanied statement before placing a liberal interpretation of the melody over the solemn support of Okon Essiet’s sparse bass line. Nash enters with a steady bossa nova feel behind Blue’s improvisation, eventually taking a colorful drum solo full of carefully placed restraint. The rhythm section disappears behind Hill, who elegantly constructs a quiet statement full of lush classicism and broad strokes of harmonic color, leading into an ending flourish from Blue. These pieces move away from the theme of Parker’s compositions, but allow Blue to display the influence of Parker’s language and phrasing within his own playing.

Rediscovering A Jazz Master From An Exciting Perspective
Blue looks at Parker from a number of Latin perspectives on Latin Bird, taking the opportunity to examine the bebop innovator from an objective stance. He shows an obvious love for Parker’s artistic approach, and his playing reflects a deep study of the inner nuances of Parker’s performances. Bird spent a bit of time in the company of some of the Latin Jazz world’s greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Machito, and more, so a precedent definitely exists for Blue’s recording. While he certainly pays respect to that side of Parker’s playing with Afro-Cuban influenced tracks, he takes the extra step to look a little deeper. His arrangements of Parker tunes over samba, soca, Latin funk, and more opens a new door into the classic compositions, allowing him to explore the songs in different ways. Blue obviously takes a great deal of joy in the journey, as his performance consistently bubbles over with playful energy and joyful zeal. Hill and Okon Essiet serve as perfect foils for Blue, burning through the Parker melodies with the saxophonist and trading inspired improvisations with him. Martinez and Guerrero provide the album’s soul, bringing a smart connection to a broad array of grooves and the improvisational insight to approach the rhythms from a jazz angle. There’s a high level of respect, appreciation and joy for Parker’s work on Latin Bird, fueled by the thrill of rediscovering a jazz master from a new and exciting perspective.

Track Listing:
1. Chi Chi (Charlie Parker)
2. Si Si (Charlie Parker)
3. Visa (Charlie Parker)
4. Blue Bird (Charlie Parker)
5. Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk & Cootie Williams)
6. Barbados (Charlie Parker)
7. Steeplechase (Charlie Parker)
8. Moods Of Parker (T.K. Blue)
9. Donna Lee (Charlie Parker)
10. He Flew Away Too Soon (T.K. Blue)
11. Buzzy (Charlie Parker)

T.K Blue – alto saxophone & flute; Willie Martinez – drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11); Roland Guerrero – congas & percussion (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11); Essiet Okon Essiet – acoustic & electric bass (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11); Theo Hill – piano (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11); Steve Turre – shells & trombone (1, 2, 4); Lewis Nash (5 & 8 )

Check Out These Related Posts:
10 Latin Jazz Perspectives On Charlie Parker
Album Of The Week: After Winter, Spring, Willie Martinez Y La Familia Sextet
George Shearing And Latin Jazz: More Than A Footnote
Album Of The Week: Cuban Tribute to Charlie Parker, Hot House

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