Bates’s ‘Bird’ music is alternately seductive and sardonic, dreamy and dangerous.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010
Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker is the great warrior soloist of jazz history, one of the progenitors of bebop, whence came the harmonic trickery and acrobatic improvisations that altered the course of the music in the mid 1940s and still provide essential tools for modernists chipping away at today’s creative coalface.
There is another portrait of Parker that can be drawn, though: the balladeer, the romantic, the purveyor of music for lovers. British pianist Bates has wholeheartedly understood this and his decision to play Parker in a trio setting, backed by skilled double-bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun, enables him to investigate, reinforce and often subvert that emotional core with clarity and power.
His ‘Bird’ music is alternately seductive and sardonic, dreamy and dangerous. Since his emergence with London big band Loose Tubes in the 80s, Bates has been tagged as the quirky, mercurial eccentric, liable to entwine technical brilliance with high jinks, yet he has always had a sensitive side and that serves him well as he teases forth similar traits from the Parker songbook. The highpoint is a reading of Star Eyes which captures the sunny buoyancy of the original but also injects melancholy by way of an arrangement that toys with slow to middling tempos before injecting an unsettling minor key Latin vamp in the coda.
Afro-Cuban or calypso rhythms crop up frequently, perhaps as a passing nod to Parker’s great accomplice Dizzy Gillespie and the fizzing, darting energy of My Little Suede Shoes shows how playful if not joyous bebop can be despite the somewhat forbidding nature of its quicksilver chord changes and overall structural fragmentation. The jerky, off-centre dance loosely recalls the late, great Puerto Rican pianist Hilton Ruiz. Above all, Bates suggests the relevance of Parker to the 1960s avant-garde that largely broke with the orthodoxy that bebop became; or rather the pianist shows just how interesting bebop can be in the hands of an artist who knows the value of both free improvisation and on-the-money composition.