It may be fairer to regard this album as the true monument to Bird and the film as a...
Chris Jones 2002-11-20
Time has not done much to bridge the gap between those who loved Bird at first sight and those who felt that the big bad soul of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker hadn't even been hinted at in the intense but mythologising movie. Truth be told, your reviewer never felt that Forest Whitaker was the man for the part, but you cannot deny the true jazz buff's zeal that Clint Eastwood brought to the subject. It may be fairer to regard this album as the true monument to Bird and the film as a mere promotional video to tempt you into a place where bebop is most assuredly shouted from the rooftops. This album swings.
Shorn of the rough surroundings that Parker's solos often found themselves in, Clint and Lennie Niehaus guessed that sparkling new accompaniment and very intricate sonic laundering would be the only thing to suit a film of this tempestuous life. Only Bird could play Bird. They were right on the money. With a small group composed of not only jazz giants but self-confessed Parker nuts, Niehaus fashioned a fantasists heaven: Parker in stereo! Filtering out all but the crowd noise from a carefully chosen set of live numbers, a group featuring Monty Alexander, Walter Davis Jr., Ron Carter, and John Guerin have re-recorded accompaniment and even solos in appropriate style. The results could have been dreadful, but somehow it works.
Of course with Bird himself blowing a mean alto on all the usual suspects, you can't really lose. The opener "Lester Leaps In" is ablaze with nimble-fingered licks and "Ornithology" remains one of Parker's finest moments in whatever guise. Three of the tracks ("Laura", "April In Paris" and "Parker's Mood") allowed the producers to make Parker's dream of working with a large orchestra finally come true, with sumptuous results. Most amazing are the two unheard tracks ("I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me" and "All Of Me") recorded at Lennie Tristano's home with Kenny Clarke tapping out a rhythm. These home recordings allow Parkers intimate tone to shine out with the added bonus of a sparkling modern backing track that never falls short of the towering standard set decades before. This is one example of a soundtrack that requires no visual accompaniment at all. Bird lives!