Donald Byrd: Four Classic Albums

Editor's Choice

Rating: ★★★★

Record and Artist Details

Musicians:

Philly Joe Jones
Wynton Kelly (p)
Sam Jones
Art Taylor
Billy Higgins (d)
Donald Byrd
Herbie Hancock
Walter Davis Jr. (p)
Charlie Rouse (ts)
Jackie McLean
Laymon Jackson (b)
Butch Warren (b)
Pepper Adams (bs)
Duke Pearson (p)

Label:

Avid

February/2023

Media Format:

2CD

Catalogue Number:

AMSC 1422

RecordDate:

Rec. December 1958 – September 1961

The title of the first of the four Blue Note albums here is apt, as Off To The Races is exactly how we feel listening to the thrilling up-tempo opening track, ‘Lover Come Back To Me’. This is no romantic reading of Romberg's song, but a high energy workout over the chords, with Byrd's rapidfire trumpet and regular partner Pepper Adams’ baritone attempting the land speed record, before Jackie McLean's confident alto creates a little more space. This period of Byrd's work is uniformly excellent, with his debts to Dizzy, Brownie, Fats Navarro and Lee Morgan never overshadowing his own individuality. Having Wynton Kelly on hand for this session ensures a strong connection to blues and roots, notably on ‘Sudwest Funk’ and ‘Down Tempo’.

Six months on, and as critic Ira Gitler succinctly put it on his notes for 1959's Byrd in Hand, “Donald affirms his maturity…lyricism with guts”. There's a tad more reflective phrasing, amid the consistently excellent fast trumpet runs, personified by his own ‘Here I Am’ or the ringing head to Walter Davis Jr.'s ‘Clarion Calls’. This box set concludes with two 1961 albums: The Cat Walk and Royal Flush. The first has an unbalanced rhythm section, with the comparatively lightweight Duke Pearson dominated by Philly Joe Jones’ emphatic drums, never more so than pulverizing Neal Hefti's charming swing number ‘Cute’ into a drum feature.

Everything comes together on Royal Flush which (as it was at the time) is the highlight of these tracks, not to mention being Herbie Hancock's Blue Note debut. The trumpeter's own ‘Hush’ allows the rhythm section to push things along, while affording Byrd and Adams plenty of space not to sound hurried. Byrd's ballad playing was seldom better than the wistful solo ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’, which escapes the shadow of Billie Holiday to allow him to own the piece comprehensively.

Hancock's closing ‘Requiem’ concludes the set by neatly and excitingly drawing together many of the prevailing threads in the other 23 tracks here.

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