thu 18/07/2024

Prom 62: A Celebration of Charlie Parker | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 62: A Celebration of Charlie Parker

Prom 62: A Celebration of Charlie Parker

Django Bates pays late-night homage to a jazz legend

Impish: Django Bates back at the Proms © BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Pianist, composer, and band leader Django Bates was so inspired by Charlie Parker as a teenager that he used to whistle his tunes on the train. This led not to abuse, but the acquaintance (at Brixton station) of saxophonist Steve Buckley. Returning to the Proms this week for the first time since his 1987 debut with Loose Tubes, Bates paid homage with a set of mainly Parker adaptations, performed by his trio, Beloved, in a new collaboration with the Swedish Norrbotten Big Band.

About half of the programme revisited tracks recorded on last year’s album Confirmation. Bates’s distinctive sound, with double-jointed rhythms swaying through gleefully and irreverently dismembered melodies, is a delight in a sharp, close acoustic, though inevitably some definition was lost in the Albert Hall. Bates has added light and dextrous orchestrations for the band, which flesh out the trio’s subtle conversation with some meaty brass voices. The Norrbotten players’ crisp, pungent contributions were perfectly judged, though the ensemble was poorly served by the sound balance. In attempting to boost the slighter sound of Bates’ trio to compete with the big band’s brassy heft, the trio became woolly with over-amplification. These arrangements will be well worth hearing again in a more intimate setting.

In addition to the Parker adaptations, Bates included a new work, "The Study of Touch". A gentler, less frenetic piece than those inspired by Parker, it exploited the haunting tone of the soprano saxophone and machismo of the tenor to explore the varieties of human intimacy. The concert closed (like the album Confirmation) with "A House Is Not a Home", Bates’ adaptation of the Burt Bacharach song, sung heartily by Ashley Slater. Bluesier than the rest of the gig, it was a typical Bates ploy to refresh and complicate the audience’s response to his music.

Bates is a superb MC. Impish in both character and appearance, his spring-green shirt and toadstool hat suggesting both innocence and mischief, he seasoned the music with anecdotes that segued seamlessly from Stravinsky to drummer Peter Bruun’s granny.

Bates is significant not just as an individual performer and composer, but also because he occupies important crossroads in the contemporary jazz scene. Europe and America; the intimate trio and the rollocking big band; composing and improvising - there aren’t many in jazz with a comparable range. Now in his early fifties, he manages to be both poster boy and elder statesman. One can’t help feeling Charlie Parker would have approved of the way Bates has been whistling his tunes. 

Now in his early fifties, he manages to be both poster boy and elder statesman


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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