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The Definitive Classic Blue Note Collection
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The Definitive Classic Blue Note Collection
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Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II (December 9, 1932 February 4, 2013), better known as Donald Byrd, was among the very finest American jazz and rhythm and blues trumpeters. A sideman for many other musicians of his generation, Byrd was best known as one of the only bebop jazzmen to successfully pioneer the funk and soul genres while simultaneously remaining a jazz artist. As a bandleader, Byrd is also notable for his influential role in the early career of renowned keyboard player and composer Herbie Hancock. Byrd performed with Lionel Hampton before finishing high school and after playing in a military band during a term in the United States Air Force, he obtained a bachelor's degree in music from Wayne State University and a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music. While still at the Manhattan School, he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers as a replacement for Clifford Brown. In 1955, he recorded with Jackie McLean and Mal Waldron. After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1956, he performed with many leading jazz musicians of the day, including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and later Herbie Hancock. Byrd's first regular group was a quintet that he co-led from 1958-61 with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. In 1958 Donald signed with the Jazz label Blue Note, the most significant record label specialising in the form during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. He would remain as one of the label s most popular and respected artists until 1976 when he left to join Elektra. His tenure at Blue Note was highlighted early on and his first nine records for the label are generally considered by the Jazz community to be his golden age. This collection features these remarkable albums in their entirety. Byrd's 1961 LP Royal Flush marked the Blue Note debut for Herbie Hancock, who came to wider attention with Byrd's successful 1962 album Free Form, and these albums (both included in this set) also feature the first recordings of Hancock's original compositions. Hancock has credited Byrd as a key influence in his early career, recounting that he took the young pianist "under his wings" when he was a struggling musician newly arrived in New York, even letting him sleep on a hide-a-bed in his Bronx apartment for several years.
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"Off To The Races", from late 1958 and Byrd's first album as a leader for Blue Note, sets the tone for what's to follow. Byrd is heard with Jackie McLean, Pepper Adams, Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones, and Art Taylor. Byrd is in stellar company with the horns of both McLean and Pepper. Kelly adds his usual soulful touch on piano, and the rhythm section keeps everything moving without calling attention to themselves. This album is Byrd close to his best. The band, the tunes themselves ("Sudwest Funk", "Lover Come Back To Me", the title track), and the arrangements all come together for a fine display of late 50's jazz. A good album.
"Byrd In Hand", from 1959, sticks with a similar instrumental lineup but with Charlie Rouse on tenor for McLean and Walter Davis, Jr. on piano. This album is a high point of this set and in Byrd's discography. Again Adams is a foil for Byrd's horn with Rouse getting in some good solos. Davis, Jr. is a good fit for this band, with his Monk/Powell influences. His "Bronze Dance" and "Clarion Call" are both good tunes which the band gets into. "Witchcraft", that old chestnut, sounds surprisingly good here, as does Byrd's "Here I Am" and "The Injuns". this is a great album all the way around.
"Fuego", from 1959, has some good playing from Byrd and McLean, but some of the tunes don't show the band in it's best light. With McLean Byrd has another player he can rely on to deliver the goods. Duke Pearson is on piano and he's a welcome addition to the band. He would continue to play on Byrd's albums into the future and was a good foil for Byrd and the band. This set has all Byrd compositions, and the title tune, "Funky Mama", and "Lament" show the band in pretty good light. But Byrd perhaps should've used tunes by others to give this album a musical lift. But if you don't listen to critically it's still good Byrd.
"Byrd In Flight" is more of the same from Byrd--dependable, good sounding trumpet but nothing truly unique. The two volumes of the live at the Half Note sets show both how good Byrd was and how seemingly lazy he was as a player. Both Pearson and Adams are here as Byrd's foils, and the extended playing lets both sidemen (especially Pearson) show just how good they were. But Adams is no slouch either. His close work with Byrd is on full display here, and worth hearing. Byrd too gets in some good licks, but he seems to depend on key phrases which he goes back to more than once. The recording is atmospheric--you almost think you're sitting in the club at times, which (for me) only enhances the feel of the music.
"Royal Flush" is a quartet date with (again) Adams, Butch Warren, Billy Higgins, and Herbie Hancock. This is either Hancock's first or one of his first Blue Note sessions and he acquits himself admirably. "Hush", "Jorgie's", and Hancock's "Requiem" show the band's chops. This album is a typical Byrd album--some tunes are better than others, but Byrd fans will like most of this set.
"Free Form", from 1961, has Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Hancock, and Warren and Higgins as the rhythm section. This set has Byrd playing up a bit in order to match Shorter's gifted playing. But Byrd had a different sound than Shorter--a soulful bop sound meeting a harder more modern sound. And it didn't always work. But overall the contrast between Byrd and Shorter comes together nicely for a mostly good album.
"Catwalk" has Adams, Pearson, and Laymon Jackson and Philly Joe Jones as the rhythm section. I've always like this album. the tunes, the playing, and the sound just seem to come together to make a great album. Again both Adams and Pearson make good contributions to this set. Pearson's tunes on this album are a big reason this is such a good set. "Say You're Mine", "Duke's Mixture", and "Hello Bright Sunflower" give the band something substantial to get their teeth into. And with Philly Joe handling the drums this set seems to just swing along from beginning to end. Another good album.
"New Perspective", 1963, has a larger band including Hank Mobley on tenor, Hancock, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Don Best on vibes, and Warren and Lex Humphries in the rhythm section. Plus there 's a choir. Hmmm. This shows Byrd changing things up some, and not always successfully either. This album is one of Byrd's most popular sets. He would go on in this style in the future to more popular acclaim. This is Byrd veering close to easy listening jazz. "Soul" music for jazz lovers. And for those of us who remember the Byrd from some of the above mentioned albums, this is a letdown. I realize people like this album, but hard-bop it's not. To each his own on that score.
But if you're looking for some of Donald Byrd's best jazz from his early period,and you don't own these albums,this would be something worth checking out. And if you want to hear more good early Byrd, check out "The Transition Sessions " from the mid 50's, or the albums "All Night Long" and All Day Long" with Kenny Burrell, also from the mid 50's. Byrd also did some interesting stuff as a member of the Jazz Lab that 's worth investigating.
The re-mastering is spacious , clean and well articulated. If you don't own any Donald Byrd or are looking for a sonic upgrade, the modest investment is worth your while,