Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Charlie Parker: The Legendary Dial Masters [Jazz Classics, 1996]
It's absurd for jazz's nonpareil improviser to have fallen into semiobscurity among new seekers for whom Parker and Coltrane and Davis and Armstrong are equally historic because they're equally dead. No one else has ever articulated so many ear-boggling, mind-expanding, stomach-churning, rib-tickling musical ideas so easily--so brilliantly--so insouciantly--so passionately--so fast. The two-CD Confirmation: The Best of the Verve Years makes up for Norman Granz's get-rich-slow schemes--Ella, Machito, Gil-Evans-ruins-Cole-Porter backup chorus, big bands, fucking strings--with small-group genius. And while it's stretched to its 37 minutes by the alternate-take marginalia obsessives dote on, Savoy's audiophile remix of the younger, purer Charlie Parker Story sweeps 50-year-old music into you-are-there territory. So all I can say for this two-CD middle-period remaster is that it's his peak. The secret is twisted heads with magic titles like "Dexterity" and "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Klact-Oveedes-Tene"--jokily virtuosic tunesmanship that suited his arcane harmonic interests the way 'Trane's simpler themes went with his modalism. And even if you believe improvisation is pretentious, arty, or male, Parker's outpourings are hard to resist in three-minute doses. Monk is definitely my man. Coltrane is probably yours. Armstrong is God. But Bird is It. A+