It’s hard to pick a favorite William Parker outfit. Everything he touches is magic, from his giant orchestras to his solo outings. But his quartets might be his ideal venues: There’s enough structure that the music can’t be called free jazz, and there’s enough leeway to let democracy command the performance. Last October, Parker took two quartets into the studio on the same day, and the result—recorded all in one day—is the blissful two-disc set Meditation/Resurrection.
A reissue of the original 1952 Clef recording session, this is one of the few instances in Charlie Parker's later career where he played with something other than a small bebop group. Under contract at the time to Clef's Norman Granz, Parker was encouraged by the label to make recordings that took him out of his familiar settings and put him in with string arrangements, Latin rhythms, and larger band formats. This recording is the result of one of these experiments. Though Joe Lipman's arrangements are stellar, the musicians assembled for the sessions are an odd mix of pop-oriented big-band players and improvisers.
The genius of Bird and strings is hard to describe – an edgey aproach that really goes far past most other "jazz with strings" projects, not a ballad-driven one, but a tensely strained one that brings out some of Parker's best soloing, almost in a moody soundtrack-type way. The tracks are a lot freer and less bop-driven than some of Bird's normal work, and it's incredible to hear him soloing with such complexity — even more proof of the genius he clearly exhibited in relation to his contemporaries.
The Kansas City alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, who was to post-second-world-war jazz what Louis Armstrong had been to its first wave, is as likely to be remembered today for his heroin habit and early death than for his exquisite and melodically stunning improvising. If that era's jazz is like journalism, Parker was its acutely observant war reporter, who kept coming back from the front of his own exploding world with new stories to tell.