The retail price for this single-disc album will no doubt seem steep to some consumers, especially since the entire program clocks in at under 45 minutes. But it's a well-produced, artfully packaged (though the "retro-cardboard" fold-over case raises questions about durability), and unique session by three of jazz' most blessed improvisors at the pinnacle of their powers.
Originally a 1950 recording released on a 10" LP in 1952, the session was apparently conceived by Norman Granz as an opportunity to win for Bird a larger audience by showcasing him in the company of jazz stars playing "pretty tunes written by good songwriters" (in several years Sonny Stitt would be laying down 5-6 tracks per side of exquisitely played standard tunes for Roost Records). But with the exception of "Melancholy Baby" these are exactly the same kinds of bebop head charts based on blues and "Rhythm" chord changes that Bird had recorded at Dial and Savoy. What distinguishes the album--apart from the singularly aggressive and competitive playing of Parker and Gillespie in their last studio session--is the presence of Monk (playing Bud Powell-like lines on uncharacteristically up-tempo tunes but still unmistakably Monk) and Buddy Rich.
In his generous, well-documented liner notes, James Patrick laments the neglect this session has received from previous critics and historians. Then he observes that though Parker, Gillespie, Monk, and (even) bassist Curley Russell "play beautifully," Buddy Rich is "intrusive" and should have been replaced by a Max Roach, Roy Haynes, or Kenny Clarke. Fine, then we have another recording indistinguishable from the earlier Dials and Savoys!
Rich may be less flowing and propulsive than the aforementioned bebop drummers, but he's definitely not intrusive. In fact, his swing-era symmetry and unfailing metronomic pulse bring a different dimension to the music and complement, above all, Monk's rhythmic approach. It's impossible to believe a musician like Monk would have hung around the studio if he did not appreciate Rich's time. (In the early '70's at Chicago's Plugged Nickel I saw Monk fire a drummer in the middle of the second tune of the first set!)
What I love about this recording are the eleven takes of "Leap Frog." Even though seven are false starts, Bird and Diz are going after one another like rival gladiators on each take. In fact, it's quite a challenge to determine what caused Bird to abort seven of the attempts so quickly (and he clearly is in charge, stopping the recording and giving orders to Monk and the other musicians). The recording provides a fascinating glimpse of the creative process as practiced by one of the indisputable musical geniuses of the 20th century.