Bird Songs

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Branching out from their mostly Monk repertoire, Sphere tackles the work of equally celebrated bebop giant Charlie Parker on this 1987 recording. It would be the last record the band would make with former Monk sideman Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone (he passed the following year and would eventually by replaced by alto saxophonist Gary Bartz when the band reformed in the late '90s). Along with several classic Parker originals like "Red Cross," "Dewey Square," "Barbados," and "Al Leu Cha," the quartet turns in fine versions of Parker favorites like "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and "Just Friends" (both found on Bird's recordings with strings). Featuring the core '80s lineup of Rouse, pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Ben Riley (another Monk sideman), the band comes up with one of their finest releases and one of the most classic hard bop sessions since the heyday of Blue Note's '60s records. Rouse, fittingly enough, is in top form throughout, coming up with a bevy of rich and mature solo statements. Barron avails himself nicely as well. Highly recommended.

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