Charlie Parker

The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings (1944-1948) (Savoy Jazz)

The hipper-than-thou scholarship that fuels the jazz industry is both its savior and its bane. For self-styled hepcats and academics who long for comprehensive intimacy with a legendary figure like Charlie "Yardbird" Parker -- the postwar saxophonist largely responsible for shaping the bebop syntax -- an eight-disc box like The Complete Savoy and Dial Recordingsis akin to an earthshaking cerebral orgasm. For unrepentant music junkies and musicians with $130 to blow on some of the most dynamic sounds ever captured on tape, the package is a welcome earful, to say the least. But for the less extreme or casual jazz fan, this exhaustive set of 88 master and 129 alternate, incomplete, or "false start" takes -- sequenced for the classroom, not the home -- makes the listening experience too labor-intensive to be altogether savory.

Spanning the period from his first date as a leader in 1945 to his triumphant return to New York in 1947 (following a drug-induced collapse and subsequent convalescence in California), this collection arguably features the most significant sessions of Parker's volatile and too-brief career (he died in 1955 at the age of 34). All the great Bird bandmates are here: trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, pianist Bud Powell, saxophonist Wardell Gray, and drummer Max Roach. The more popular titles appear as well -- "Koko," "Ornithology," "Billie's Bounce," "Relaxin' at Camarillo," "Donna Lee," "Scrapple From the Apple," "Constellation" -- many of them based on simple blues changes or standards like "I Got Rhythm." It's fascinating how, from such trite basics, the saxophonist's singular rhythmic prowess, innate melodic lucidity, and improvisatory genius yielded not only a bounty of formidable solos, but perhaps more important, a body of compositions that continues to thrill, inspire, and confound music fans to this day.

That said, the average aficionado will likely be disappointed by this production, which is far from user friendly. Only two of the eight discs sport a sizable number of master takes in a row -- and one of these is half comprised of only bootleg-quality sound. This variety means the Parker fan has to be deft (and patient) with the track-skipping key or with the programming function on his CD player, unless he wants to hear three, four, or 11 consecutive versions of the same song. The extensive liner notes are obnoxious as well, offering esoteric, redundant, or plain tedious information and critical analyses that override the few noteworthy insights and personal anecdotes. Granted, it's no easy task repackaging the bebop master for mass consumption; dozens of books and over 1,000 recordings currently serve as a document of Parker's trailblazing and tumultuous life. Still, the jazz industry's self-evident snootiness has soiled an otherwise valuable project, which should have been made accessible to all.

 
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