Charlie Byrd: Blues Sonata (1960)

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Charlie Byrd: Blues Sonata
Mention the word "Bird" and Charlie Parker immediately comes to mind with Donald Byrd soon to follow. Charlie Byrd, on the other hand, is not an artist that immediately comes to mind. Byrd first made his mark with Stan Getz on Jazz Samba, a record which unfairly obscures his work as a solo artist. He has never been held in the same esteemed class as Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell, but his solo work was far more eccentric than either of those two and deserves wider recognition. Blues Sonata is as good a place as any to start. The first half of the record features an extended work entitled "Blues Sonata" which features Byrd's working trio. Byrd was one of the few artists who attempted a melding of classical and jazz idioms (and one of the very few to do so successfully) and the results combine the influences of Segovia and Django in a bewitching potpourri. Heavy on composition and light on improvisation, Byrd crafts a melodic cycle that is both original and arresting. Betts is given plenty of room to display his nimble bass skills while Deppenschmidt seems content to provide snappy brushwork in the background. It would be easy to dismiss this effort as classical music you can snap your fingers to, but the end result is much more than that; repeated listening proves that Byrd was doing exciting work that no one else at this time was attempting.

The second half features Byrd in a rare appearance on electric guitar, to a somewhat lesser effect. "Alexander's Ragtime Band" comes off as a little hackneyed and "Jordu" has been done better by others (Barney Kessel for one). Only the last two songs generate any swing with Byrd firing off Montgomery-style octave runs at a swinging pace. Barry Harris comes along for the ride, but it's tempting to say that these last four tunes might have been more interesting had he not been there to provide support. Still, though, the strengths of this record far outweigh the shortcomings. Those who favor guitar-based jazz but have not heard a Charlie Byrd record should give this one a listen and as a result might be tempted to explore Byrd further.

Track Listing: The Blues Sonata: Polonaise Pour Pietro, Ballad In B Minor, Scherzo For An Old Shoe. Alexander's Ragtime Band, Jordu, That Old Devil Called Love, Zing! Went the Strings Of My Heart.

Personnel: Charlie Byrd, guitar; Barry Harris, piano (#4-7); Keter Betts, bass; Buddy Deppenschmidt, drums.

Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

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