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Bop, or be-bop in its full name, was a young jazz man's answer to the more conservative prevailingly swing music of the time. Developed in New York City during the early 40s, bop hit the international scene in 1945 and took everyone by surprise with its energetic and radical approach to swing jazz music. In the hands of innovators such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, the old swing music was given much faster tempos and more spare accompaniments from the rhythm section which opened up space for rapid fire pyrotechnical solos. Still a favorite genre in jazz music schools around the world, many clubs still feature be-bop to this day, but today's bop sounds tamer and calmer than the original item.

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THELONIOUS MONK Monk's Music Album Cover Monk's Music
4.91 | 9 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall Album Cover With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
4.98 | 4 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK Brilliant Corners Album Cover Brilliant Corners
4.87 | 7 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK Monk's Dream Album Cover Monk's Dream
4.81 | 8 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Bags' Groove Album Cover Bags' Groove
4.79 | 7 ratings
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JOE PASS Virtuoso Album Cover Virtuoso
4.93 | 3 ratings
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MILES DAVIS Miles Davis All Star Sextet (aka Walkin') Album Cover Miles Davis All Star Sextet (aka Walkin')
4.77 | 7 ratings
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ARTURO SANDOVAL Swingin' Album Cover Swingin'
5.00 | 2 ratings
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CHARLIE PARKER Bird And Diz (aka Une Rencontre Historique) Album Cover Bird And Diz (aka Une Rencontre Historique)
4.98 | 2 ratings
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THELONIOUS MONK Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington Album Cover Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington
4.75 | 2 ratings
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RAY BROWN Something for Lester Album Cover Something for Lester
5.00 | 1 ratings
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KENNY BURRELL A Night at the Vanguard (aka Man At Work) Album Cover A Night at the Vanguard (aka Man At Work)
5.00 | 1 ratings
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bop Music Reviews

CHARLIE PARKER Ken Burns Jazz: Definitive Charlie Parker

Boxset / Compilation · 2000 · Bop
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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.

BUD POWELL Blues for Bouffemont (aka The Invisible Cage)

Album · 1964 · Bop
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“Blues for Bouffemont” (also known as “The Invisable Cage”) was one of Bud Powell’s last recordings, and many consider it his last worthwhile recording. There is no doubt that Powell was one of the most influential jazz pianists ever, but due to mental health issues, his recordings can be inconsistent. Considering that this record came late in his career, it is surprisingly good, although not exactly a representation of Powell at his very best. On the plus side, Powell sounds very relaxed on here and his playing shows little traces of that bizarre stiffness that I’ve heard on other recordings that can make his playing unbearably loud and forceful. The relaxed feel in his playing is a welcome relief compared to some past recordings, but at the same time, I’ve heard Powell recordings that better show his abilities with ultra-fast tempos and complicated phrasing at high speed altitudes. Some have also complained of sloppiness in Powell’s playing on some cuts, but it only gets bad on “Relaxin at Camarillo”, which does sound a bit tipsy. So possibly “Bouffemont” falls on the plus side of the middle range when it comes to the up and down world of Bud Powell recordings.

Stylistically speaking you get a lot of variety on here ranging from up-tempo bop to ballads, swing, blues and even calypso jazz. Powell shows his dark humor on the sentimental ballad, “Like Someone in Love”, hamming it up like a Liberace. His crazy chord sequence that follows the bass solo packs in a lot in a few seconds. Much like Jimmy Smith and Keith Jarret, Bud Powell has been known to “sing” (sounds like an angry duck in the background) along with his playing. It doesn’t show up on some of his recordings, but it does on this album. It can be annoying at first, but not too hard to ignore after a while. Would you believe that in the late 70s, re-issues of this album on the Black Saint label could be found in the budget section at record stores for just a couple bucks., that’s how I got my copy.

BUD POWELL Jazz At Massey Hall Volume Two (aka The Bud Powell Trio )

Live album · 1953 · Bop
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“Jazz at Massey Hall Volume II” is the other half of one of the most notable jazz concerts in history. Volume I contains the one-time performance of the all-star quintet of Bird, Diz, Mingus, Max Roach and Bud Powell, while Volume II is just Powell on piano backed by Roach and Mingus. There have been countless re-issues of this album on both vinyl and CD, sometimes with different titles and song selections. Some will package the two volumes together as a two-fer, while other re-issues will include some studio sides that Powell cut around the same time with a rhythm section in Europe. I happen to have a vinyl re-issue called “Bud Powell Charlie Mingus Max Roach” credited to The Bud Powell Trio, confusingly enough, this group name happens to be the album title on earlier re-issues. I found my copy in a thrift store, and you pretty much never see Bud Powell records, even re-issues, in a thrift store.

This concert was recorded at a time when Powell’s playing was becoming increasingly erratic due to mental health issues, but he really pulls it together for this performance. All six of the tunes on the original album sound great, the re-issue I have, as well as many other re-issues, replaces “Basically Speaking” with “Jubilee”, which makes sense as its fast tempos provide a better showcase for Powell’s high speed dexterity than the more Mingus centered “Basically”. The four extra cuts recorded with Art Taylor and George Duvivier in Europe are good too, but some of Powell’s increasing oddness comes out more on these cuts. His ballad playing on the European dates is marred by his constant bizarre shifts in volume, and when he plays loudly, which is often, it sounds as if he wants to destroy the piano. A little “ugly beauty” is always a part of a good jazz ballad, but this sort of extremes is definitely an acquired taste.

The sometimes brutal ballads aside, this album is full of everything that is so great about Powell. The high speed tempos handled with ease, the tricky rhythmic phrases, the weird asides and instances of brilliance that are impossible for others to imitate. Some highlights on here include Powell’s two-handed interlocking solos on “Sure Thing” and Max Roach’s high speed bongo like drum solo answer to Powell’s flashy ride on “Cherokee”. Of course Charles Mingus is superb on bass, pushing the tempo like crazy on the fast numbers and providing melodic counterpoint to Bud Powell on "I got You Under My Skin".

CHARLIE PARKER Bird And Diz (aka Une Rencontre Historique)

Album · 1952 · Bop
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“Bird and Diz” is a collection of tunes recorded by the dynamic duo in 1950 and released two years later. This would be the last time these two would record together in the studio, and the only time they recorded with the idiosyncratic Theolonius Monk on piano. It is a stellar all-star lineup, and they do not disappoint. Many have criticized the use of the old school swing drummer, Buddy Rich, for this modern (circa ’50) bop session, but given that the drums are not recorded that well in the first place, basically the best you could hope for is someone who keeps good time, and Buddy does fine in that department. The tunes on here range from the old school humorously corny “My Melancholy Baby”, to the abstract, modern and high speed rush of “Leap Frog”. Except for “Baby”, all of the tunes on here are Parker originals that mostly lean on well worn bop chord changes. The tunes are okay, but its what they do with them that sets this group apart.

Although supremely talented on their own, something happens to ‘Bird and Diz’ when they get together, their talent seems to multiply, and when you add the dry wit of Monk, you have one of the more inspired sessions on record. Playing that is this confident, witty, relaxed and just plain brilliant is rare. Everything on here has a certain effervescent buoyancy that others can not reproduce. Sly humor is a big part of all this, particularly Monk’s terse deconstructionist rides. You can also hear them spoof each other’s solos, such as on the out-take of “My Melancholy Baby” where Parker follows Monk’s ridiculously melodramatic schmaltz with a flurry of crazy notes that bury Monk’s last chord. A special sound for this duo is when they play their unison melodies while Diz is using a mute, and you get that on both “An Oscar for Treadwell” and “Mohawk”.

Despite the criticisms of using Rich instead of the more bop savvy Max Roach, I still think this is one of the better jazz records in my less than extensive collection, but the potential buyer most be warned of one serious problem with this recording. The sound of the drums on here is pretty bad, and downright annoying sometimes. Apparently the recording engineer decided to channel most of the cymbal sounds through a very narrow eq setting and the result is that the cymbals sound like a faucet that was left running in a metal sink. How annoying this is depends on the listening medium, it seems worse in the car stereo than the home system, and I would say that it bothers me less and less over time.


Live album · 1955 · Bop
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Some musicians are so gifted that their fans, and musicologists in general, want to have every note they played archived somehow, no matter how bad the condition of the recording or its sound quality may be. If I had to name one musician who deserves such attention, that musician could easily be Charlie Parker, but you have to draw the line somewhere. “Bird at St Nick’s” is a good example of where a lot of us would draw the line on how bad of a recording is acceptable, especially when that recording is sold on expensive 180 gram vinyl.

Side one of “St Nicks” consists of someone holding a tape deck very near Charlie Parker and only recording while he plays his solos. Later a sound engineer did a decent job of splicing the solo sections together for the continuity of the songs. The recording quality is typically bad, Parker comes through okay, but the rest of the band is a vague rumble in the background. The good thing about this side though is that you do get some very good solos for the serious fan who wants to have every note Parker ever played. This side is acceptable from a musicological standpoint, but things get much worse on side two.

Side two opens with “Confirmation”, which features Parker’s best solo on the record, and a sound quality similar to the first side, but then its all down hill from there. Something happens on the ironically titled “Out of Nowhere”, it sounds like the band is in the other room now. I get the feeling the guy left the deck running while he went to the bathroom, but maybe I’m wrong. There is so much room reverb on the saxophone that it sounds like a violin, I literally checked the album cover to see if there was a guest violinist! Side two continues with more songs that are so badly recorded you can barely make out what Parker is playing, much less anyone else except, oddly enough, the bass player.

For the hardcore Parker fan and obsessive musicologist, there are some good solos on side one and parts of side two, but then there are some other songs on side two that are just plain worthless. I can understand why this recording exists, but my main complaint is why was this issued on 180 gram vinyl? It seems to me that putting something on 180 gram vinyl comes across as an endorsement that this is one of his best recordings.

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