WDR Big Band: Birth Of A Bird

Big band centenary tribute sports fine solo and ensemble work and arranging surprises such as the startling polytonal statement on Chi Chi


In 2020 the Cologne-based WDR Big Band celebrated the centenary of Charlie Parker’s birth in Kansas City with Birth Of A Bird. Their former chief conductor Mike Abene arranged the charts, which concentrate on the great man’s originals together with other material associated with him. The WDR are clearly consummate readers able to interpret the most challenging arrangements, which is what we have here.

They open with the obscure Chi Chi, which Parker introduced on one of his last studio dates in 1953 – the only time he recorded it. The two altos, Luigi Grasso and Johan Horlen, solo inventively together for two blues choruses leading to a startling polytonal ensemble theme statement.

Abene has ingeniously combined Ah-Leu-Cha with Scrapple From The Apple. The former was one of Parker’s few contrapuntal originals (Chasin’ The Bird was another) and like Chi Chi he only recorded it once, in 1948. Scrapple is a Rhythm chart with a Honeysuckle Rose bridge and was one of Parker’s staples. It has some fine Ruud Breuls trumpet and fluent contributions from the altos again.

Embraceable You opens with an extended, unaccompanied statement from Grasso, leading to a lyrical examination of this Gershwin classic. Yardbird Suite, based on Earl Hines’ Rosetta, is notable for a chorus of alto exchanges with just Hans Dekker’s drums for company.

The set concludes with Segment, another original, that, like Chi Chi and Ah-Leu-Cha, Parker only recorded once, in 1949. Based on his favourite I Got Rhythm sequence it allows Paul Heller (tenor) and Jens Neufang (baritone) to emerge from the section and shine as soloists.

Chi Chi; Ah-Leu-Cha/Scrapple From The Apple; Ornithology; Embraceable You; My Little Suede Shoes; Confirmation; Yardbird Suite; The Gypsy; Segment (63.29)
Collective personnel: Andy Haderer, Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls (t); Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm, Andy Hunter (tb); Mattis Cederberg (btb); Johan Horlen, Luigi Grasso, Stefan Pfeifer-Galilea, Karolina Strassmayer (as); Olivier Peters, Paul Heller (ts); Jens Neufang (bar); Billy Test (p); John Goldsby (b); Hans Dekker (d). Cologne, Germany, summer 2020.
Jazzline D 77114