Were you to ask trumpeter Donald Byrd what moment in his career he would most like to relive, it would not be surprising if he selected the period documented on this recording. It was the late summer of 1958, and Byrd and his quartet had settled in for an extended gig, including practically carte blanche musical freedom, at a Parisian Left Bank jazz cave called Au Chat Qui Peche. On most occasions the quartet was augmented by the Belgian tenor saxophonist-flutist Bobby Jaspar, who at the time was married to American expatriate singer Blossom Dearie.
Today Byrd is the lone survivor, having long outlived not just Jaspar but an American rhythm section of young lionspianist Walter Davis, Jr., bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Art Taylor. The stay culminated in a public concert, Byrd in Paris (Verve International), which cannot compare with the candid experience and moment of "verismo" history offered by this unrehearsed club date, released for the first time in the United States in 2005.
There are no mics on the horns, so solo clarity is sacrificed to room ambience (most of the table conversations are in English). Although Davis' piano and Watkins' bass cut through the mix, the instruments of Byrd and Jaspar sound distant, except when Taylor switches to brushes or elects to drop out altogether. After a slow and rather tentative start on"All the Things You Are," the horns respond with heat and conviction to Taylor's insistent prods on "Parisian Thoroughfare," which features the best work by Jaspar on the date. Though he's perhaps most remembered for his flute work, the Belgian woodwind player goes to the smaller instrument only oncefor a brief stretch on Monk's "Well You Needn't."
Byrd sounds strongest on the ballads (partly because of not having to compete with the explosive thunder of Taylor's drum kit), especially the seldom-performed "All This Time" by William Walton. Throughout the set his playing is flowing, logical and without surprises. At the same time, on Monk's "52nd Street Theme" he makes it clear why he's the leader (and future PhD). The piece, taken at a breakneck tempo, moves from Davis' fleet, Bud Powell-driven solo to an unaccompanied, masterfully constructed walking bass solo by Watkins. At the end of measure 32, Byrd alone comes in. Not wanting to be left hanging out to dry again, he cautions the musicians to get it right the second time, even calling off Davis at the bridge. Finally, the second time around, everyone is primed to come in after measure 32, bringing both the tune and the set to a satisfying close.
Au Chat Qui Peche 1958 may not be momentous music, but it nonetheless provides a rare and historic glimpse of music in the moment.
Personnel: Donald Byrd: trumpet; Walter Davis, Jr.: piano; Doug Watkins: bass; Art Taylor: drums; Bobby
Jaspar: tenor sax, flute.