[JPL] Bird Lives in the Adulation of a Young Saxophonist

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 29 17:03:02 EDT 2007

June 28, 2007
Music Review | Bird With Strings
Bird Lives in the Adulation of a Young Saxophonist 
The Charlie Parker tribute being held this week at
Birdland, the club that bears his nickname, isn’t
meant for anyone harboring resentment about the
commodification of Parker’s art. Nor is it for anyone
who insists that jazz belongs strictly to the
Americans, or that it glances backward at its own
peril. Presented by the Umbria Jazz Festival, with the
help of various Italian cultural organizations, the
engagement traffics in nostalgia even as it revels in
new talent.

Make no mistake, though, the talent in this case is
considerable. Filling the Bird role on alto saxophone
is the former prodigy Francesco Cafiso, who recently
turned 18. Backed by a working quartet and a chamber
orchestra, I Solisti di Perugia, he’s revisiting the
string arrangements from Parker’s popular recordings
of the late 1940s. And he’s managing to make them feel

Mr. Cafiso favors the tone and articulation of Parker,
as well as the dartlike rhythmic cadences. The mark of
his hero has been a constant throughout Mr. Cafiso’s
10-year career, so there’s less trepidation in his
approach to the role than there might be for other
comers. In the first set on Tuesday night his sound
was light but assertive, with hints of a fluttering
vibrato. When he was relaxing into the beat, rather
than urging it forward, the results were winsome.

The 13-piece orchestra played the music with equal
flair. Essentially performing without amplification,
it sounded rich and resonant in the room. High
fidelity may be the real treat of this engagement for
anyone who has worn through the grooves of the old
LPs. “Just Friends” was newly vivid with its harp
glissandi and sighing cello invocation; later there
was a brief but effective interlude by an oboist,
Simone Frondini.

Of course most tunes were less eventful. Whatever the
scope of Parker’s classical ambitions — he was fond of
Stravinsky and fascinated by orchestration — his
sessions with strings produced a middlebrow music,
full of garish sentiment. The arrangements, while
charming in measured doses, don’t fare as well in
succession. After about a dozen of them you feel as
though you’ve consumed a three-course meal of
consisting entirely of sponge cake.

Mr. Cafiso seemed aware of this predicament, even if
he did open the set with the same four tracks as on
“Charlie Parker With Strings: The Master Takes”. So he
had his drummer, Stefano Bagnoli, improvise a powerful
prologue to “Repetition.” And he counted off one
tempo, for “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” at a
precariously brisk clip. (Later he offered an
alternate take, acknowledging his overcompensation.) 

As a coda Mr. Cafiso led his quartet through “Happy
Time,” an engaging original with a fidgety approach to
rhythm. It gave him a chance to shrug off the burden
of emulation, and he took it, still speaking Bird’s
language but in his own emerging voice.

“Bird With Strings” continues through Sunday at
Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, Clinton, (212)
581-3080, birdlandjazz.com.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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