Inspired by his love of the music of legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, Rudresh Mahanthappa pays homage to the late bebop innovator on 2015's Bird Calls. It was purportedly while breaking down Parker's performance on "Donna Lee" to help a student learn the infamously difficult song that saxophonist Mahanthappa came up with the concept of a different way to interpret Parker's music. Taken in small, easily digestible bites, Mahanthappa began to hear Parker's architectural bop motifs less as swinging, blues-based jazz and more as modern classical or even avant-garde music. Combining his own creative approach to jazz with Indian raga, funk, post-bop, and other eclectic stylistic elements, Mahanthappa wrote pieces loosely based on Parker's songs or parts of solos. For example, "Both Hands" reworks Parker's "Dexterity" into a roiling, machine-gun stream of sound, and "Talin Is Thinking" turns Parker's classic bluesy ballad "Parker's Mood" into a frenetic spiritual jazz workout. Furthermore, just as Parker was often backed by a quintet featuring a trumpeter like the great Dizzy Gillespie, Mahanthappa takes the same approach, bringing with him 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition third-place winner Adam O'Farrill along with pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist François Moutin, and drummer Rudy Royston. Only 20 years old at the time of recording, O'Farrill (the son of pianist Arturo O'Farrill and the grandson of legendary Cuban percussionist, and Parker associate, Chico O'Farrill) is an immensely gifted trumpeter with a robust, rounded tone and lithe improvisational style. Joining with the other members of Mahanthappa's quintet, he brings an intensity and buoyant creativity to Bird Calls that effectively updates the classic Parker/Gillespie partnership. For his end, Mahanthappa, a brilliantly capable improviser blessed with a fluid, harmonically engaging approach to jazz, blazes his way through these songs, which are at once accessible yet boundlessly inventive. Ultimately, with Bird Calls, Mahanthappa has crafted an exuberant, expressive album that's as fresh and surprising as the music Parker originally recorded.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar