Once again Concord Records has reissued two simpatico dates as a budget two-CD collection, this time two live sets by guitarist Charlie Byrd, originally issued as '80's Sugarloaf Suite and '82's Brazilville. Both sets are indicative of Byrd's lightweight and low-key approach to Brazilian music, which he discovered while in his mid-30s and dedicated much of his musical career to afterwards. Somewhat unique in that he worked in jazz ensembles using strictly a classical guitar, he went on to popularize such forms as the bossa nova and the samba, especially on his '62 collaboration with Stan Getz, the largely popular Jazz Samba.
Disc One, Sugarloaf Suite , is a live recording from the '79 Concord Jazz Festival, and it finds Byrd in a trio setting with brother Joe on bass and Wayne Phillips on drums. With a programme that mixes original Brazilian-informed tunes with pieces by Jobim, Caymmi and Bonfa, the pace is easy-going and unhurried. Even up-tempo numbers like the up-tempo waltz "Na Praia (At the Seaside)" and the bossa "Sapatos Novos (New Shoes)" breeze along with a relaxed approach that makes the entire set pleasantly engaging, if not a little bland. This is not music that demands attention, but there is no doubt that Byrd, who passed away in '99 after a long bout with cancer, understood the source of the music that so captured his spirit.
Disc Two, Brazilville , a live club date from '81, is notable for the addition of Bud Shank on alto saxophone. Less emphasis on original material and more on Brazilian composers, as well as some standards, makes this a slightly more varied set. While also known to be a passionate player in the Phil Woods/Jackie McLean mould, here Shank is definitely playing more in the West Coast "cool" form, as even and gentle as Byrd, although moments of fire occasionally slip through. Even tunes like Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" get the balmy South American treatment.
While there are plenty of artists, including Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos, who have shown that Brazilian music can be rawer and more full of fire, the popularized American variant of the music seemed to be at its most successful when at its least confrontational. In that respect Byrd is the perfect proponent, with a tasteful and lyrical approach that is sure to appeal to a wider audience. But it would have been nice, just occasionally, to hear him let his hair down and attack the material with a little intensity and spirit. Still, for those looking for an easy-listening couple of hours of light jazz, one could do far worse than listen to Charlie Byrd and Byrd & Brazil. Well-played and with a clear understanding of its roots, Byrd's work could never be accused of being anything less than authentic.
Personnel: Charlie Byrd (guitar), Joe Byrd (bass), Wayne Phillips (drums on disk one), Charles Redd (drums on disk two), Bud Shank (alto saxophone on disk two)