Thousands of artists have honored Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk but it has arguably been awhile since someone has released something this good. “This”, in this case, is Tribute To Bird & Monk (Labor) by German pianist/arranger Heiner Stadler, and if the title is familiar, then you already know the power of this album. It was originally released in 1978 on Tomato Records as A Tribute To Monk & Bird with a completely different cover.
If you have this album, then this is the same recording but remastered. If you haven’t heard it in awhile, but have been meaning to get it but the economy has got your record collecting habits down, pick this up.
Originally released as a double LP (that’s 2-record set for you format freaks, but again you knew that), this album has some incredible renditions of Bird and Monk classics, including a 21 minute version of “Straight No Chaser”, a 19 minute take of “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are”, and a 13 minute attack of “Air Conditioning”. It sounds as fresh as ever because this CD was remixed from the original 16-track analog multi-tracks, but hearing the musicianship and knowing people like Lenny White, Thad Jones, George Adams, and Reggie Workman are on here… you know this is of another time, if not another world. To thing these recordings came from four days of recording in a studio in NYC, and it was just casual. There was a time when music came off this casual and yet sounded so rich and complex at the same time. Stadler’s work is brilliant throughout, and to immerse himself right in the heart of NYC amongst some of the best musicians (of any genre) in the world must’ve been a major personal high. Experience the high on Tribute To Bird & Monk, 78 1/2 minutes of brilliance in sound.
Pianist Kevin Hays wears his heart on his sleeve, or in this case his music as he demonstrates on his new album, You’ve Got A Friend (Jazz Eyes). He, along with Bill Stewart (drums) and Doug Weiss demonstrate how you can combine jazz and pop to create something that is neither too weak for the jazz elite or too soft to where it would go into smooth jazz rotation. Although considering how much airplay smooth jazz gets, this may fit along very well, but it depends on what you want and demand from the music.
I would say that Hays closesly resembles the vibe and moods of Ramsey Lewis, who has always been a fantastic interpreter of other people’s music, be it from his cherished days on Chess to the awesome albums he did on Columbia in the 70’s. Hays isn’t just a play-by-numbers guy either, he arranges and when he plays he catches a groove and allows himself to move within until he gets back into the theme of the song. His eight minute rendition of Carole King‘s “You’ve Got A Friend” sounds neither like her or the hit version recorded by James Taylor, this is one of those songs where when it’s over, you want to stand in front of your stereo and just clap. Do not do this when you are driving, just pull over to the side, stop, get out of your car, and just give a random standing ovation that no one on the highway will understand. But you will, heh heh.
His playing is something you’ll want to hear, because as you hear him play you know he has knowledge of the roots of not only what he’s playing, but how he’s playing. Then you have the rhythm section of Weiss and Stewart, who know how to compliment the band leader in this situation, and each other. Other great songs on here include covers of The Beatles‘ “(The) Fool On The Hill”, Simon & Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and Charlie Parker‘s “Cheryl”. For someone as moving as Hays, he makes each of these eight covers his, a true testament to his playing, and I am sure his own compositions are just as good.
The recording itself was engineered by Michael Brorby and mastered by Katsuhiko Naito, so jazzophiles will love the depth of Weiss’ bass notes plucked one by one in “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or the gentle drum strokes in Monk‘s “Think Of One”, but it’s just a great sounding album all around, from all aspects. Buy this immediately.