Preservation and renewal were at the heart of this excellent celebration of one of jazz’s major pioneering figures. In the sixty-one years since his death, many have sought to capture Charlie Parker’s spirit. His tunes are still rites of passage for jazz players, and not just for those who take up his chosen instrument, the alto saxophone.
The exhilarating thing about Parker’s music for the listener, as well as his disciples, is the sheer flow of his creativity, often on melodies he superimposed onto existing chord sequences, and there were some marvellous examples here of giving his ideas new forms while maintaining something of the original.
Moose the Mooche opened the concert by letting the entire Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, certainly in ensemble and more or less individually, pick up Parker’s baton. The pace was bebop brisk, the section work crisp, tight and precise as the horns negotiated the melody’s hair-pin bends before a team of soloists queued up to take a chorus.
If this was from the text book, elsewhere the arrangements became more expansive, more enquiring. Julian Arguelles’ take on My Little Suede Shoes and Martin Kershaw’s on Anthropology made particularly imaginative use of both Parker’s ideas and the orchestral colour available, with flutes and mutes and clarinets being key features.
As well as emphasising SNJO’s high collective sound quality, these re-imaginings – the young trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ adaptation of Drifting on a Reed was another example – spurred the soloists’ creativity. Recent recruit Peter Johnstone’s encapsulation of keyboard power and subtlety on Anthropology was quite the tour de force and another indicator of the orchestra’s own propensity for regeneration.
**** Rob Adams: The Herald, November 15, 2016