If you tend to buy your CDs at the used shops and thrift stores, then you will already know that these Ken Burns collections tend to show up a lot, and usually at a very reasonable price. I’m going to guess that a lot of these Ken Burns collections were bought as gifts during the height of his TV series, and then after a few listens, the hype wears off and the CD owner realizes he didn’t really like jazz all that much anyway, ha. This Parker CD tends to get a similar evaluation as many of Burn’s other compilations, a nice collection of tunes marred by hit and miss sound quality. How big this sound quality issue is to you will probably determine if this is a CD you would like to have.
To my ears, the sound on here is not that bad, about 20 to 25 percent of the tunes have a pronounced high end hiss and surface noise, but most of the rest are fine. Which brings us to the next issue, how good do you expect older recordings to sound? Technology does exist today to clean up old recordings, but when you remove the high end, you stand a chance of losing some cymbals, or even slightly altering what a horn sounds like. It’s a tough choice sometimes. Me personally, I don’t expect old jazz recordings to sound perfect, and over time, I barely notice things like hiss, especially if there is plenty of ambient noise going on (traffic, people talking etc). I read one complaint about this CD in which a consumer claimed that this CD sounded bad on headphones. Yes, high end hiss will be very pronounced on headphones, but why listen to older recordings on headphones, it’s a bad combination to begin with. A lot of this music was mixed to sound good coming out of small radio speakers, and smaller speakers, or just an average home stereo, is still what this music sounds best on. If you are looking for deep bass ala your latest dub-step club mix or Pink Floyd surround-sound, then its time to drop this CD off at the thrift store for someone who will provide a proper home for it.
As far as the music on here goes, you get a nice overview of Parker’s career spanning from his early days as a radical innovator and on up to his last years where he slowed his pace, but developed an extra sweet and supple tone. If you like the crazy early be-bop, that’s well represented here with “Salt Peanuts”, “Ornithology” and the ultimate Parker rush; “Ko-Ko”. Elsewhere on here you get one early cut when Parker was a sideman with Jay McShann’s big band and at least one of those ‘Parker with strings’ tracks. Bird’s recordings with strings were much maligned when they were released , but over time they have been accepted, and for good reason, those recordings with strings contain some of Parker’s very sweetest playing. The rest of this CD consists of favorites any fan will know, and any novice will want to hear.
Once again, the sound quality of several cuts is going to be the make or break on this one. Personally I think it sounds ok, but it may not sound so good to folks raised on perfect digital sound and modern compression. For those who want to sample the worst, probably the highest amount of noise occurs on “Yardbird Suite” and “Relaxin at Camarillo”, although there are a couple more that are not much better. The other thing to consider is the scope of this collection, I would imagine some would prefer a collection that only features Parker’s earlier work and not his later efforts. The overall evaluation for this CD; this may not be the best Parker collection, but I’ve heard worse, at least Ken Burns and his crew did a good job of matching the volumes on the different tracks.