Bird - Ronan Guilfoyle and Lingua Franca

A CD review by trumpeter Hugh O'Neill of a new recording by jazz bassist Ronan Guilfoyle with his band Lingua Franca.

Bird, the latest offering from Ronan Guilfoyle, with his band, Lingua Franca, is, you’ve guessed it, a tribute album to the late Charlie Parker, with all the tunes on the album associated in some way or another with that artist. The players are Julian Arguelles on saxophones, Rick Peckham on guitar, Tom Rainey on drums and Ronan Guilfoyle on bass.

The opening tune, ‘From the Apple’, the only original track on the album, leaves the listener in no doubt as to what style of tribute this is. Opening with drums playing brushes and quickly joined by the bass playing a repeated figure, together they set up a dark vamp, giving a tense backdrop for the melody. The sax joins the bass, playing a simple theme that is carried through the tune in various guises. Instrumental sections between solos propel the tune forward to great effect, with a change of feel beneath each soloist. Julian delivers a blistering solo that turns into a tight dialogue between bass and sax on one side, and the drums build the tension before changing the feel once again to end the tune.
The second tune, a classic bebop number, gets the treatment. With a slow disjointed funk feel, the sparse melody and minimal drums keeps the feeling of space throughout the tune.

The third tune ‘Ah-Leu-Cha’, another bebop standard, is definitely not what you expect from a tune this familiar to regular bebop listeners. Immediately recognisable and yet totally fresh at the same time. The bass and drums set up a funky groove, the melody is started by the sax, followed a beat later by the guitar giving a strange contrapuntal feel to the melody. The bass and drums pulse away underneath sounding almost like a hip-hop groove; the overall effect is quite amazing.

Another tune that delivers the same sort of double-take is track number six, ‘My Little Suede Shoes’. Familiar to many as a light-weight bossa, it comes across here with a much darker more serious feel. With the tune’s composer in mind, there is a contrast between the original, which is a very jaunty number, and this, a moving tribute. The sax starts the melody, with no particular pulse, while the guitar loosely plays a single note underneath. They play the whole tune once together before bass and drums join with a slow sort of Latin feel. The single note harmony is kept during the solos, keeping a tension throughout the tune.

The fourth track, a Gershwin classic, ‘Embracable You’, is another example of a familiar tune taking you totally by surprise. The chords are beautifully reharmonized, giving the melody a more modern context, and the melody is played in a slow syncopated way on tenor with the guitar playing harmony underneath. This syncopated feel is kept throughout the solos with subtle variations behind each soloist.
Track five, ‘Segment’, is another bebop signature tune, played here in true bebop fashion. The energy level on this tune is maintained from the beginning, through an excellent bass solo before the final head. Track seven, ‘Big Foot’, is something of a bass feature, the whole tune being a duet for bass and drums. Track eight, ‘Birdfood’ by Ornette Coleman, shows a more adventurous style of playing, from moments of metric modulation to a section without any discernible pulse.

Between the masterful playing of the band and the ingenious reworking of some classic tunes, Bird is a fantastic listen, and for anyone familiar with previous versions of these tunes in particular, there is an added dimension to the album.

First published in JMI: The Journal of Music in Ireland, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Nov–Dec2000), p17.

Published on 1 November 2000

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