This is a kind of companion piece to last year’s Beloved Bird, and has the pianist playing in a trio format with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun once more. It is also centred around the compositions of Charlie Parker, though this time there are just three Parker tunes, with six Bates originals and a contrasting coda of a vocal arrangement of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s A House Is Not A Home.
Parker’s title piece opens proceedings with Bates doing all his usual mix of revoiced harmonies, deconstruction and reconstruction of melody, slowing and speeding of tempi, worrying the theme this way and that, treating it as chewing gum with an extraordinary elastic mix of off-the-wall brilliance and jaw-dropping bravura technique.
It’s schtick as genius and genius as schtick. And actually, although it might be all his “usual”, the “usual” is, of course, always changing and developing, and with each new release Bates achieves the blend of contradictions more seamlessly, makes the mending more invisible.
Of the other two Parker tunes, Donna Lee is a jumping and stumbling waterfall of an interpretation, and nearly unrecognisable to all but the most Bird-familiar, before turning into an exhilarating bass and drum showcase with Bates adding odd-time accents, while Now’s The Time makes a thick, dark squashing splat before turning into a delicate three-way musing with some that characteristic Djangolyricism in the right hand lines (a sharp contrast with the machine-gun version the trio made on Beloved Bird).
The originals range widely in mood from the jumpy abstraction of We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way (a 2011 commission by BBC Radio 3 and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival) to the delirious, dreamy romanticism of Peonies As Promised. It is pieces like that last mentioned which, to my ears, place Django Bates in that specific English tradition which combines the poignant with the witty, the melancholic with the resolute, the light and airy with the deeply profound. In this regard he sits alongside as diverse a bunch as Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Noel Coward and John Taylor.
The integration of Eldh and Bruun into Bates’ way of working doesn’t sound like it can get any more complete without some kind of three-way cloning procedure – they act in extraordinary accord, making this a band to sit up there with the trios of Brad Mehldau, Bill Charlap and Keith Jarrett, as well as The Bad Plus and E.S.T.
The album closes with former Loose Tubes compadre Ashley Slater singing the Bacharach, and while we might have expected a New York, New York-style piss-take, this is a pretty straight reading with some of Django’s brilliant keyboard harmonies (are they processed celeste, perhaps?) in background decoration.
A hugely rewarding near-hour of the finest 21st century jazz music.