Django Bates’ 2010 trio album, Beloved Bird, was a revelation. Its audacious dismantling of Charlie Parker’s compositions only to reform them into startling new, shifting forms was exciting and inspirational. Now the same trio (with Petter Eldh on bass and Peter Bruun on drums) are back with a new album, Confirmation.
This time there are a mixture of Parker pieces and Bates originals. The opening title track is as good an example as any of how this ingenious trio work. The familiar Parker melody is affectionately transformed into a poly-rhythmic, tempo shifting, kaleidoscope of ideas – at one moment a brash series of chordal stabs, then suddenly a delicate witty aside punctuates the frenzy, and then the whole piece slows down to a gorgeous, tentative meditation, before the melody is once more stated in all its original witty extravagance.
Throughout this album the three players demonstrate an uncanny telepathic understanding of exactly what is needed, responding immediately to what the others are playing while contributing their own unique voice to the evolving piece.
Almost at the end of the album there is a lovely little surprise – a charming vocal version of A House Is Not A Home. Ashley Slater joins the trio with a delightful, fragile interpretation of the beautiful song. As so often with this trio’s arrangements, there is a delectable dessert in the coda, in this case the extended, repeated ‘godnight’.
John Fordham, in the Guardian, gives the album 5 stars:-
Django Bates has done it again. In 2010, he received rapturous cheers for his Beloved Bird album, dedicated to bebop sax genius Charlie Parker. This is the five-star follow-up, also with the young Danish bass and drums team of Petter Eldh and Peter Bruun, but now a more even mix of covers and Bates’ own themes.
I particularly like Sebastian Scotney’s insightful short LondonJazz piece:-
‘Joyful, insouciant and insanely clever’ are the adjectives chosen by liner-note writer Evan Parker to describe the way pianist Django Bates has ‘reconsidered, fragmented and thoroughly “Djangoised”’ the melodies and harmonies on Confirmation.
The last verb is probably the most significant: success in jazz is widely thought to depend on finding an individual voice, and the use of a musician’s name as shorthand meaningfully encapsulating a particular approach is thus the highest form of compliment that can be paid to a practitioner.
…The trio addresses Charlie Parker material with the same mix of intensity and adventurousness that made the album’s predecessor so compelling; it also plays six Bates originals with all the spiky, nervy but somehow utterly appropriate verve and wit that their originality and eccentricity demand.
Also good is Cormac Larkin in the Irish Times:-
Possessed (and that is the word) of one of the most fertile musical imaginations, influential English pianist and band leader Django Bates is an anarchist who chose the piano as his principle means of making noise. As a composer and serial instigator, Bates’s real instrument is the ensemble itself. Belovèd, his current working trio, is an intensely creative unit, attuned to the leader’s concept.
Daniel Spicer in BBC Music captures the group dynamics well:-
The rhythm section of Bruun and Eldh does a staggering job of matching and anticipating Bates’ synaptic-fast soliloquies. On tracks like Parker’s Donna Lee and Bates’ We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way, the trio locks into a stumbling lurch that feels like a sailor returning to ship after a night’s shore-leave, but nonetheless hangs together with a rolling momentum and a maddening logic that highlights the sharply crafted accuracy underpinning the madcap approach. Moreover, the trio brings Bates’ vision to life with such an intuitive group-mind that it’s nearly impossible to tell where the writing ends and group improvisation begins.
Ask anyone making jazz today and they’ll probably tell you that that effortless synergy of composition and extemporisation is the very essence of the music. For Django Bates Belovèd it feels as natural as asking a bird to fly.