Django Bates – Tenacity (released 2 October)
(Lost Marble. Review by John Bungey)
At school in Lewisham, Django Bates was a Charlie Parker fan, which must have been a lonely pursuit in the denim-clad Seventies with classmates presumably busy headbanging to Led Zeppelin or Slaughter and the Dogs. Isolation, however, ended when he met a young fellow Bird fan, the saxophonist Steve Buckley who would later join him in the anarchic Brit-jazz big band Loose Tubes. And Bates’s admiration has continued ever since. This rumbustious celebration, released in this, Parker’s centenary year on Bates’s 60th birthday (Oct 2), has been a long time coming.
In 2011 on the album Confirmation the pianist presented highly individual Parker arrangements with his Belovèd trio. Two years on, Bates and the Norrbotten Big Band from northern Sweden showcased arrangements of classic Parker at the BBC Proms. With trio and big band combined, Tenacity does a fine job of reimagining Parker tunes for the 21st century – now that rhythm sections play with a freedom unimaginable in Bird’s day. If the dominant voice is often the restless febrile style of Bates rather than Parker’s, then faithful big band arrangements of Donna Lee or Confirmation with a soundalike saxophonist would miss the point. As Parker once told an eager-to-please sideman: “You sound good, but I did that already.”
In fact, the theme of Donna Lee seems to tumble haphazardly out of the Norrbotten horns while the rhythm section has its mind on other matters. After a dramatic pause, Bates sets off on a fiendishly dextrous piano adventure. The band returns before a section of mesmeric jazz dub with spiderish bass from Petter Eldh (similar on the Confirmation album). At the close there’s a burst of big band anarchy before the theme is repeated double-time, which sounds very Loose Tubes. It’s a delightful reinterpretation – is it what Parker would sound like if he was playing now? Probably not, but it’s full of Bird’s invention and spontaneity.
My Little Suede Shoes bustles in on a hazily tuned keyboard over woozy bass and drums before exploding into a Latin party blow-out. Laura from Charlie Parker with Strings retains its Hollywood soundtrack sheen and initially sounds the most Fifties faithful before drums and bass start ambushing the stately progress. Star Eyes soars into the cosmos amid brass fanfares and rippling piano before subsiding into an intimate discussion between piano, bass and percussion.
All told, it’s an impressive album. Through his career, Bates’s restless energy, desire to cram in diverse styles and aversion to predictable music-making has occasionally led to mildly exhausting albums (e.g. You Live and Learn, Apparently). But not here – this may be Parker clothed in some rakish new threads but his spirit shines through.
LINK: Django Bates website
Categories: CD review