Released on the Sahara label shortly after it was recorded in September 1994, Remembering Billy Strayhorn appears to have been one of the last albums completed by pianist, percussionist, and bandleader Errol Parker, who was born Raphael Schecroun in Algeria in 1926 and became permanently involved with jazz in Paris during the late 1940s. Parker, who appears to have renamed himself after Erroll Garner and Charlie Parker, began making a most unusual kind of music in the late '70s and ground out more than ten albums over a 15-year period, usually with a pack of improvisers tough and resilient enough to negotiate polytonal, polyrhythmic music of often bracing intensity. Parker's ultimate configuration was the Tentet, which in 1994 was composed of five saxophonists, two trumpeters, a trombonist, electric bass, and electric guitar, usually bolstered by the leader's preferred combination of overdubbed piano and drums. Oddly enough, the only ballad on Remembering Billy Strayhorn is Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York," which could have been a less misleading title for the album, because with the exception of Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" these are all Errol Parker originals, done up with the sort of joyous ferocity that characterized much of the man's musical output. What makes this particular album so gloriously unconventional is the fact that the album title and cover art convey the impression that it's going to be yet another lovingly presented tribute stocked with delicately balanced interpretations of love songs and lush ruminations by Billy Strayhorn. One gets the distinct impression that Parker was honoring a more underappreciated aspect of Strayhorn's musical mind. The best example by far would be "Tonk" as recorded on January 10, 1946 by Ellington and Strayhorn in a piano duet which sounds like the work of Lennie Tristano. Another example of the Strayhorn Errol Parker might have had in mind was the composer of "Circle of Fourths," which was given a very Errol Parker-like treatment by the Vienna Art Orchestra in 2000 on their robustly creative album Duke Ellington's Sound of Love.
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