Bates’ originals are fine bedfellows for some reconfigured Charlie Parker pieces.
Daniel Spicer 2012
The story goes that, as a boy growing up in south London, pianist Django Bates would wander the streets whistling Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker tunes, hoping to attract like-minded individuals. This cute piece of mythmaking signals two important facets of Bates’ personality: a wilful eccentricity and an abiding love of Parker’s work.
It was these two traits that came into combined focus on Bates’ 2010 album, Beloved Bird. A trio date recorded with Danish musicians, drummer Peter Bruun and bassist Petter Eldh, it put a selection of Parker’s bebop classics through the wringer of Bates’ quixotic imagination: deconstructed, shuffled, and reassembled as impishly skewed versions.
For Confirmation, Bates has reconvened the trio to tackle more Bird numbers but also, this time, half a dozen originals. It says something of the completeness of Bates’ aesthetic that, without looking at the sleeve notes, it’s not always easy to tell the two apart. The title track (a Parker tune) tumbles straight into a dizzying mix of mercurial flourishes, wonky runs, declamatory stabs and sudden flashes up the keys, all jammed together in a darting, disorientating merry-go-round; while Dimple (an original) is built around an exuberantly up-tempo and swingingly old-fashioned joie de vivre. At every step, Bates seems intent on cheerfully wrong-footing even the most attentive listener.
The rhythm section of Bruun and Eldh does a staggering job of matching and anticipating Bates’ synaptic-fast soliloquies. On tracks like Parker’s Donna Lee and Bates’ We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way, the trio locks into a stumbling lurch that feels like a sailor returning to ship after a night’s shore-leave, but nonetheless hangs together with a rolling momentum and a maddening logic that highlights the sharply crafted accuracy underpinning the madcap approach. Moreover, the trio brings Bates’ vision to life with such an intuitive group-mind that it’s nearly impossible to tell where the writing ends and group improvisation begins.
Ask anyone making jazz today and they’ll probably tell you that that effortless synergy of composition and extemporisation is the very essence of the music. For Django Bates Belovèd it feels as natural as asking a bird to fly.