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“He could play a tomato can and make it sound great.” That’s trumpeter Red Rodney talking about Charlie Parker, the alto saxophone titan. As far as anyone knows, Parker never tried to play his bebop classics such as “Au Privave” or “Donna Lee” through a can, tomato or otherwise. But in a 1952 concert in the District of Columbia that has recently been etched onto CD, he did add an unexpected dimension to the modern miracle of plastics. Parker was playing a plastic sax — apparently a gift from a manufacturer — when he came in for a date at D.C.’s Club Kavakos. Backed by a local orchestra directed by the aptly named drummer Joe Timer, Bird probably had not heard the band and certainly did not study its arrangements of standard songs. Nonetheless, Bird is positively blazing on the opening cut, “Fine and Dandy,” standing out above the orchestra like a full moon over the Potomac, luminous and clear even on a gimmicky imitation of his chosen instrument. “The Washington Concerts” (Blue Note) features eight tunes from that night, as well as six previously unissued cuts recorded at the Howard Theater later in 1952 and in 1953. On those tunes (including his “Ornithology” and “Scrapple From the Apple”), Bird’s famously inspired, blurry fast improvisations lead the way for smaller combos. While subject to the limitations of live recordings in those days, the disc is a fine example of what Rodney — whose comments from a 1982 interview form the final track on the CD — calls Bird’s “outpourings of pure, raw genius.” In June of 1995, the stately National Cathedral was the site of two relatively stately concerts by pianist Dave Brubeck, who had long since reached the coolest elevations in the jazz world because of the lasting popularity of the 1960 smash “Take Five.” The prolific Brubeck had composed a mass for the engagement, and the Cathedral Society Chorus & Orchestra played with his quartet during the second half of the concerts. Those performances were released as “To Hope: A Celebration” five years ago. Now come selections from the first half of the performances, where Brubeck’s foursome swings lightly on several jazz standards and a few less-standards. The notes to “Double Live from the USA and the UK” (Telarc) — the second hour-long CD was recorded three years later in London and elsewhere — point out that the seven-and-a-half-second echo between what is heard at the front of the cathedral and what is heard in the pews was a bit of a challenge for the recording crew. Regardless, things came off quite well. Brubeck’s classically informed piano work, which is at once accessible and highly complex, is seamless. And alto sax player Bobby Militello, though generally in the mellow mode of his predecessor in the Brubeck band and the composer of “Take Five,” Paul Desmond, offers a stunning display of Birdlike fire on “Cherokee.” Most of the performances are a bit more subdued, but still engaging. The two-CD set includes versions of “Take Five” recorded on both sides of the Atlantic, and the differences between the takes are just one example of how Brubeck has kept things interesting through a lengthy career in the public spotlight. Bill Kisliuk is senior editor at Legal Times.

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