By Josef Woodard | Published January 2021
Django Bates’ most recent project marks the convergence of two birthdays—the pianist’s 60th and Charlie Parker’s centennial. The late saxophonist perennially has been on Bates’ mind, a source of inspiration worthy of inventive rethinking.
Tenacity also explores a confluence of the bandleader’s deep-diving, iconoclastic work in both large ensembles and the intimate piano-trio setting, combining his Belovèd trio (bassist Petter Eldh, drummer Peter Bruun) with the Swedish Norrbotten Big Band.
Bates has been cooking up fascinating, irreverent and virtuosic big-band music since his work with Loose Tubes in the ’80s, and on Tenacity, he creates a wild but deeply musical tapestry. Such classic Bird bop tongue-twisters as “Donna Lee,” “Ah Leu Cha” and “Confirmation” are put through Bates’ deconstructionist blender to thrilling ends. On tunes associated with the saxophonist—“Laura” and “Star Eyes”—Bates evades static renderings, offering up mercurial changes, whimsical sonics and shifting dynamics. But Bates’ own original compositional voice also is vital to the album, ranging from the elastic, free-meets-fixed “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” to his luminous “The Study Of Touch.” Contrasting the introspective version from his 2017 ECM album, the big-band “Touch” is juiced up with some ensemble gymnastics, but returns to the lyrical head. A tranquil denouement.
Another graceful resolution arrives in the form of the closer, “Tenacity,” following all the intellectual, witty and ecstatic energies on one of the ever-tenacious bandleader’s finest works to date.
Tenacity: Cordial; Ah Leu Cha; Donna Lee; Laura; Confirmation; We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way; The Study Of Touch; My Little Suede Shoes; Star Eyes; Tenacity. (53:10)
Personnel: Django Bates, piano, vocals; Petter Eldh, bass, vocals; Peter Bruun, drums, vocals; Norrbotten Big Band.