Charlie Parker
Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Charlie Parker Collection

When it comes to the work of saxophonist Parker, the only collection truly deserving of the descriptor "ultimate" would be one that contains everything he ever recorded. However, record-company politics have ensured that none of the compilations on the market, including several mammoth Parker boxed sets, encompasses the width and breadth of Bird's music. Yardbird Suite is far from an exception to this rule; because it contains only two CDs, 38 tracks and just a smidgen of the work he did for one of his primary labels, Verve, it's actually more of a sampler than the be-all and end-all implied by its title. Still, the package is not without appeal for jazz novices or Parker completists. First of all, its sticker price is nowhere near the triple-digit figures attached to many Parker items. Secondly, the accompanying sixty-page booklet, built around text by Ira Gitler and Bob Porter and a slew of wonderful photographs, justifies the purchase all by itself. And finally, the music is peerless. Among the lineups heard here are the Ree Boppers, the Ri Bop Boys, the All Stars and Parker's principal quartet, quintet, quintet with strings, sextet, septet and orchestra, all represented by final studio or in-concert versions of various tunes--no alternate takes are present. For those already acquainted with a good portion of Parker's catalogue, most of the songs (such as "Salt Peanuts," cut under the leadership of Dizzy Gillespie) will be familiar, but they retain their power more than two generations after Parker breathed his last. Aficionados know that Parker sounded better during some of his creative phases than during others, but he never sounded bad. It's the rare artist whose every cut deserves to be heard. And Charlie Parker was rare indeed.

--Linda Gruno

Jill Sobule
Happy Town

Judging from this disc, Sobule found herself torn between writing the best tunes that she possibly could and trying to recapture the success of "I Kissed a Girl," the ex-Denverite's MTV-approved alterna-hit of a couple years back. As a result, her finest moments are relegated to the disc's second half, hidden behind several lame, Generation-X-friendly cuts intended to appeal to her youthful fan base. With their catchy choruses and canny (if superficial) nods to jazz and hip-hop stylings, "Bitter" and the title selection prove listenable enough, but they pale in comparison with stark ballads such as "Little Guy" and, especially, "Soldiers of Christ," a left-wing commentary that's rendered all the more chilling by the Kewpie-doll voice in which Sobule can't help but deliver it. Also noteworthy are "Underachiever," which should cement Sobule's status as an honorary big sister to legions of awkward teenage girls everywhere, and the spunky "Love Is Never Equal," a duet with the scene-stealing Steve Earle. Of course, even the best of Sobule's material remains an acquired taste: If, for example, "Attic" borders on sentimentality, the wistful "Super 8" fairly wallows in it. But at least these tunes bristle with honesty--a characteristic that's almost entirely absent from Sobule's more overtly commercial offerings.

--John Jesitus

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