jazz musician Francesco Cafiso plays the saxophone at
Birdland on West 44th Street.
By NATE CHINEN
Published: June 28, 2007
The Charlie Parker tribute being held
this week at Birdland, the club that bears his nickname,
isn’t meant for anyone harboring resentment about
the commodification of Parker’s art. Nor is it
for anyone who insists that jazz belongs strictly to
the Americans, or that it glances backward at its own
peril. Presented by the Umbria Jazz Festival, with the
help of various Italian cultural organizations, the
engagement traffics in nostalgia even as it revels in
Make no mistake, though, the talent
in this case is considerable. Filling the Bird role
on alto saxophone is the former prodigy Francesco Cafiso,
who recently turned 18. Backed by a working quartet
and a chamber orchestra, I Solisti di Perugia, he’s
revisiting the string arrangements from Parker’s
popular recordings of the late 1940s. And he’s
managing to make them feel roomy.
Mr. Cafiso favors the tone and articulation
of Parker, as well as the dartlike rhythmic cadences.
The mark of his hero has been a constant throughout
Mr. Cafiso’s 10-year career, so there’s
less trepidation in his approach to the role than there
might be for other comers. In the first set on Tuesday
night his sound was light but assertive, with hints
of a fluttering vibrato. When he was relaxing into the
beat, rather than urging it forward, the results were
The 13-piece orchestra played the music
with equal flair. Essentially performing without amplification,
it sounded rich and resonant in the room. High fidelity
may be the real treat of this engagement for anyone
who has worn through the grooves of the old LPs. “Just
Friends” was newly vivid with its harp glissandi
and sighing cello invocation; later there was a brief
but effective interlude by an oboist, Simone Frondini.
Of course most tunes were less eventful.
Whatever the scope of Parker’s classical ambitions
— he was fond of Stravinsky and fascinated by
orchestration — his sessions with strings produced
a middlebrow music, full of garish sentiment. The arrangements,
while charming in measured doses, don’t fare as
well in succession. After about a dozen of them you
feel as though you’ve consumed a three-course
meal of consisting entirely of sponge cake.
Mr. Cafiso seemed aware of this predicament,
even if he did open the set with the same four tracks
as on “Charlie Parker With Strings: The Master
Takes”. So he had his drummer, Stefano Bagnoli,
improvise a powerful prologue to “Repetition.”
And he counted off one tempo, for “What Is This
Thing Called Love?,” at a precariously brisk clip.
(Later he offered an alternate take, acknowledging his
As a coda Mr. Cafiso led his quartet
through “Happy Time,” an engaging original
with a fidgety approach to rhythm. It gave him a chance
to shrug off the burden of emulation, and he took it,
still speaking Bird’s language but in his own
“Bird With Strings” continues
through Sunday at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, Clinton,
(212) 581-3080, birdlandjazz.com.