Review: Charlie Parker on Dial at Purcell Room (EFG London Jazz Festival)

Charlie Parker on Dial
(Purcell Room, South Bank, Sunday, 17 November 2013. Review by Peter Vacher)

Pianist-arranger Alex Webb is fast cornering the market in clever evocations of past milestones in jazz history. Last time, it was his Café Society show recalling that innovative New York club; here, it was a tightly focussed consideration of a key period in Parker’s recording career, taking us session by session through his years (1946-47) with Ross Russell’s Dial label.

If Bird couldn’t make it, altoist Nathaniel Facey seemed like the next best thing, handling these time-honoured, zippy ensemble parts with aplomb and then embarking on his own variations rather than attempting any replications of Parker’s original solos. And that was the whole idea, for while Sirena Riley’s neatly delivered narration set the scene and a visual backdrop provided context, it was Parker’s enduring creativity that still knocked you for six.

No small task then to recreate this dazzling music, apparently so casually put together at the time. Webb’s men had it down, tight and purposeful, with trumpeter Freddy Gavita up for the task, thoughtful and poised, and Webb himself showing a neat turn at the keyboard while the rhythm team, with drummer Moses Boyd again showing his natural desire to swing, did the business admirably. A history lesson? Yes, but a valuable one and an illuminating experience all round. The Club Eleven pioneer Laurie Morgan once described Parker’s Dial recordings as ‘the finest jazz ever played’. On this showing, he could be right. Good script, good concept, fantastic music – where to next? Music colleges for starters, I’d suggest.

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