Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams began their jazz careers under similar circumstances at about the same time. Two years of military service, a musical education, and experience with established leaders prepared the trail. From Detroit, both found themselves in the center of New York’s late 1950s hard bop jazz scene. That fertile era produced some of our favorite recordings. It’s no surprise that Miles Davis was a big influence on Byrd’s development and that Harry Carney influenced Adams. The baritone saxophonist paid his dues with Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Chet Baker, and later with Mel Lewis. Trumpeter Byrd replaced Kenny Dorham in the Jazz Messengers’ lineup late in 1955.
Most of the studio session material reissued with this 4-CD boxed set was recorded between 1958 and 1961. One later session was recorded in 1967. This was before electronic fusion. Fast and virtuosic, Byrd and Adams perform hard bop the way it’s supposed to be. They are the principle soloists throughout each of the six sessions.
With a sextet for the December 21, 1958 session, Byrd includes originals "When Your Love Has Gone," "Sudwest Funk," "Off to the Races" and "Down Tempo." Jackie McLean, Byrd and Adams form the front line and take most of the solos. McLean’s bebop style back then was much closer to Bird than it is today. The gentle ballad "When Your Love Has Gone" is performed as a quartet with trumpet featured. Donald Byrd has always respected tone quality. More than most, he seems to prefer heartfelt expression and a rich tone to rapid-fire technique and high screeching. Wynton Kelly steps up with piano solos on "Sudwest Funk," "Off to the Races" and "Down Tempo." Elsewhere, he comps alongside bass and drums. They make a driving bebop rhythm section. Sam Jones is featured on the loose blues "Down Tempo" while Arthur Taylor carries a blues march type drum feature for "Off to the Races." Both Byrd and Adams appear with distinctive qualities: Byrd remains bright and strong while Adams works seamlessly and with fluid articulation.
Byrd’s May 31, 1959 session sextet includes Charlie Rouse and Walter Davis, Jr. Not released until 1981, the session includes three Byrd originals plus two by the pianist: "Bronze Dance" and "Clarion Calls." Rouse’s soft-edged articulation and clear sense of direction stand out; particularly on "Bronze Dance." Davis, too, solos on several tracks. His fluid, bebop, syncopated keyboard technique stands out favorably on "Bronze Dance" and the standard "Witchcraft." Byrd’s "Here Am I" closely resembles "Elijah" from his A New Perspective album that was recorded later but released much earlier than Chant.
From that same 1963 A New Perspective album, "Chant" shows up as the title track on Byrd’s April 17, 1961 quintet session with Herbie Hancock, Doug Watkins and Teddy Robinson. With walking bass, ride cymbal and soulful melodies that are derived from gospel, Duke Pearson’s "Chant" makes a fine centerpiece. Yet, this session wasn’t issued until 1979. It also features a blazing fast "I’m an Old Cowhand," two gospel-inspired pieces by Byrd, and a lovely Pepper Adams feature on "Sophisticated Lady" with just piano trio behind him.
A quintet with Duke Pearson, Laymon Jackson and Philly Joe Jones carries the May 2, 1961 session, which was issued as The Cat Walk. This was an uneven session. While Pearson’s "Hello Bright Sunflower" swings, and the title track is a real grabber, Neal Hefti’s "Cute" remains sloppy and uneven. Byrd penned "The Cat Walk," capturing the impressionism of a feline prowl. Yet, he’s delivered it with the rhythm and mood of classic hard bop. Soulful to the end, the song carries Byrd’s distinctive touch.
Byrd’s September 21, 1961 quintet featured Herbie Hancock, Butch Warren and Billy Higgins in a swinging hard bop session that stands out as the high point of this boxed set. Four of Byrd’s compositions, one from Hancock and one Frank Sinatra ballad, "I’m a Fool to Want You," give the ensemble a well-rounded program, over which Byrd and Adams spread their message. From a romantic slow dance to a soulful, gospel-inspired waltz, the session allows for freedom of expression from one of the trumpeter’s best lineups.
Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous and Mickey Roker supply the rhythm for Byrd’s October 5, 1967 sextet session. Alto saxophonist Sonny Red augments the front line. Corea’s "Samba Yantra" and "Chico San" provide tension in his harmonic voicings and release in the composer’s consonant melodies. Corea, of course, is more adventurous than many pianists.
The 4-CD set comes with a 12-page book that includes liner notes by Bob Blumenthal and 31 black & white photos of the artists by Francis Wolff. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic records: 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111. Byrd’s sweet, full tone is present everywhere and his soulful approach comes from the heart. He and Pepper Adams recorded New York hard bop during a very fruitful era in jazz; one that’s not likely to be replaced any time soon.
Personnel: Donald Byrd- trumpet; Pepper Adams- baritone saxophone; Charlie Rouse- tenor saxophone; Sonny Red, Jackie McLean- alto saxophone; Duke Pearson, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Walter Davis, Wynton Kelly- piano; Butch Warren, Laymon Jackson, Miroslav Vitous, Doug Watkins, Sam Jones- bass; Billy Higgins, Philly Joe Jones, Mickey Roker, Teddy Robinson, Art Taylor- drums.