Charlie Byrd was that rarest of birds in the ornithology of music- one who could shape his plumage to fit into virtually any setting. Not content to rest on his laurels as a virtuoso jazz guitarist, Byrd was equally comfortable negotiating a tightly composed classical chart, sculpting a lilting Bossa Nova, strumming out a down-home blues or testing his nimble plectrum on a time-tested pop tune. The fact that he was fortunate enough to jam with guitar maestros as varied as Django Reinhardt and Andres Segovia added further to his mystique.
As Robert Gordon’s liner notes argue persuasively Byrd in concert was often a far different animal than Byrd on wax. Pigeon-holed by his prominent stake in the popularization of the Bossa Nova Byrd’s record dates were often boxed into narrowly defined thematic parameters. Not so when he was afforded the luxury of a live audience. All the diversity of his sizable repertoire was up for grabs in these settings and he often took full advantage. On this date, recorded at Howard Rumsey’s world famous Lighthouse Byrd teams up with his brother Joe and the sensitive supporting drums of Bertell Knox and the three players work through a broad array of material. Byrd’s lightly amplified acoustic strings negotiate Bossa Nova classics like Jobim’s “Wave” and “Meditation” with the same attention conferred to classical (“Concerto In G”) and tango pieces (“Chiquilin De Bachin”). There’s also the requisite number of pop tunes, both vintage and contemporary. But unlike so many of his peers, who often turned in rote renditions of these chestnuts, Byrd crafts clever reworkings. His melodically pliant reading the Roberta Flack staple “Killing Me Softly With His Song” is a perfect case in point. Knox’s fluid traps set up an infectious backbeat while Byrd’s shimmering strings slice into the familiar theme above the economic bass lines of brother Joe. Lennon and McCartney’s “Norwegian Wood” is given similarly shrewd treatment as Byrd gently cracks open the tune’s melodic center revealing the succulent chordal fruit beneath while Knox’s chugging ride cymbal keeps an impeccable rhythmic time.
As an added bonus seven previously unreleased tracks are appended to the original eight rounding out the concert even more than its earlier vinyl incarnation. This is a disc that has something for nearly every taste while serving an opportune entry point into Byrd’s vast reservoir of guitar techniques. In addition, rather than being a introspective essay on one man’s mastery of his instrument there’s a lively relaxed feel to the music that makes it perfect summer afternoon listening in the company of friends.
Tracks:Wave/ I’m Coming Virginia/ Killing Me Softly With His Song/ Fantasy In B Minor/ Salty Dog/ Chiquilin De Bachin/ Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)/ Ela/ Cherry/ The Way We Were/ Concerto In G/ Love Is In the Air/ Meditation/ This Can’t Be Love/ It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).
Players:Charlie Byrd- guitar; Joe Byrd- acoustic & electric bass; Bertell Knox- drums.
Recorded: March 1-3, 1974, Hermosa Beach, CA.