Bird: The Complete Masters 1941-54
(Universal Music Classics & Jazz France 533 612-3)
I had begun to think that the box set was a long-gone thing – an opulent dream from those heady pre-recession days when banks and bankers hadn’t been found out yet.
But here is a fabulous package: 13 CDs, no less, together with a beautiful booklet in a near-A5 sized box, and containing, as the blurb puts it, “the complete ‘master’ takes of Charlie Parker together with a selection of concerts, private recordings and radio-sessions”.
It starts in Dallas, Texas, on 30 April 1941 with Swingmatism from the Jay McShann and His Orchestra, and it finishes the Fine Sound Studios in New York City on 10 December 1954, with Love For Sale and I Love Paris from the Charlie Parker Quintet. He would die three months later.
That takes 11 CDs to get through, and all these tracks have appeared in previous forms, including all those much cherished Dial and Savoy sides that many experts feel are the choice ones, though the Mercury and Verve ones have their fans, too.
CDs 12 and 13 contain a mixture of broadcasts, concerts and private recordings running from 1940 to 1953, and while the sound quality might not be too hot, there is still much joy to be had here, including Parker hot as hell on Ko-Ko in a ’47 broadcast by Barry Ulanov and His All Star Metronome Jazzmen. Of course this is not a complete set of such recordings, just a selection, but it’s a pretty exciting one.
As I understand it the word “complete” applied to the first 11 discs needs to be qualified, as it seems to refer to all those recordings released during Parker’s life, whether under his leadership or someone else’s, and excluding, for example, all manner of extra master tracks that have been released on previous completist versions of individual sessions or recordings.
That’s no bad thing as far as I can hear, for this is as wonderful and compact a set of the Parker I really want to hear as I can imagine, especially as it can be had for under £30.
Not so much hours of joy, but rather days, weeks, months, years of pleasure and satisfaction.