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V/A - Bird Up!: The Charlie Parker Remix Project

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Artist: V/A

Album: Bird Up!: The Charlie Parker Remix Project

Label: Savoy Jazz

Review date: Nov. 25, 2003

I generally maintain a fairly vigorous skepticism regarding remix concepts like this one – I’ve been almost consistently disappointed by attempted fusions such as “jazz-hop” or whatever other neologism is appended to the often clunky merging of jazz recordings (or live performance, for that matter) with contemporary electronics or popular styles. But the lineup of artists on this revisiting of classic Parker recordings caught my eye. (Generally this is the mid- to late-’40s stuff with his classic New York groups: alongside the legendary altoist, we hear trumpeters Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, drummer Max Roach, vibist Red Norvo, pianist John Lewis, and bassist Slam Stewart.) Shouldn’t the possibility for greatness exist with artists like El-P, Dan the Automator, and the RZA manning the remix? Couldn’t those old possibilities of genre shuffling and recombination be gloriously realized?

Well, yes and no. In all too many places, the parts just seem slapped together – either the Bird stuff is reduced to a tepid sample (as with Meshell NdegéOcello’s take on “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”) or the chasm separating the musics just leaves me scratching my head. The great El-P’s suitably cosmic take on “Constellations” (with trippy vocals by Stephanie Vezina) seems like a good track, but one which has little to do with Bird.

“Now’s the Time” is slowed down, smothered in reverb, and shellacked with inconsequential vocals and soprano sax noodling. “Salt Peanuts” is a really ill-conceived Hal Willner construction, pairing – in what must surely be a sign of the apocalypse – Dr. John’s piano with the Kronos Quartet. And Serj Tankian – the lead singer of metal group System of a Down – contributes an emotionally overwrought lyric to “Bird of Paradise”.

Thankfully, though, there are also some real successes. Donk’s reconstruction (with soprano from Ravi Coltrane and flute from Hubert Laws) of “Congo Blues” is hot and mysterious (though his Tom Waits-meets-dub version of “Night in Tunisia” is pretty icky). And RZA gets “Bebop” cooking just right – he helps pull off a perfect synthesis of Wu Tang and bebop rhythm (which, shockingly, most of these tracks treat too casually). Dan the Automator produces a typically quirky track, a cartoonish version of “Steeplechase” that features probably the compilation’s best understanding of Bird’s phrasing (not so much on his other track, “Perhaps”, though). The X-Ecutioners scratch along with the soloists on “Cheers”; it’s pleasant but a bit of a one-trick pony.

So I guess this one is fun grooving stuff for a lark, and it might go over big at your next party (it certainly should sell well). But for those expecting an ear-opening stylistic collision, I’d have to say – despite the talents and ambitions of the contributors – look elsewhere.

By Jason Bivins

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