Byrdland

COMPOSERS: Byrdland
LABELS: Landor
ALBUM TITLE: Byrdland
WORKS: Songs by Byrd, Dowland, Holborne, Playford, Purcell, Gibbons etc
PERFORMER: Lawrence Zazzo (countertenor); Paragon Saxophone Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: LAN 280
Scoring 16th- and 17th-century romantic songs for instruments designed for 19th-century military bands and apotheosed in early

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20th-century dance-music really shouldn’t work. Yet it does, thanks not least to the elegant phrasing and sumptuous tonal character of the Paragon Quartet’s playing, which combines the warm intimacy of a viol consort with the fruity richness of shawms and crumhorns.The title of the disc is a nice joke: Birdland was of course the Manhattan club named after Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, the greatest saxophonist ever. I would question whether the fundamental correspondences between jazz and early music that Zazzo claims in his notes are that strong, but no matter: the success of these performances on their own terms obviates any need to justify the use of saxophones. Zazzo has one of the most flawless, beautifully-controlled voices you could wish to hear. He sings with proper attention to the story a song tells, and if he doesn’t quite match the expressive individuality of Deller or Bowman, his sound and technique rival even Scholl’s and his diction is excellent in this astute mixture of familiar and lesser-known pieces. Barry Witherden