There was a time when Donald Byrd probably spent as much time out at Rudy Van Gelder's house in Hackensack recording sessions as he did in the clubs performing for live audiences. From the early part of the '50s on, Byrd was a busy man, appearing on scores of records for Savoy, Prestige, and Blue Note. And with youth on his side, Byrd was capable of delivering the goods day after day and night after night with a brassy tone and characteristic joie de vivre that distinguished him as one of the finest post-Clifford trumpeters.
Hitting the mark just after his Savoy and Transition sessions as a leader, the recordings collected on this four-disc set span from Byrd's 1958 maiden voyage, Off to the Races to 1967's The Creeper. Although all of the studio dates that paired baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams and Byrd together can be found here, the two discs of live material recorded in 1960 at the Half Note have been left out due to their relative availability elsewhere. In a judicious packaging move, Mosaic has also opted to present the selections in original album order and segregate the sessions with larger groups on the first two discs; the core quintet recordings thus appearing on discs three and four.
Logistics aside, the next obvious question involves how Pepper Adams fits into the musical scheme of things. Basically, Byrd and Adams hit on their partnership sometime in early 1958, the group's first recording being the live Riverside set, 10 to 4 at the 5 Spot. This then leads us nicely to Byrd's Blue Note contract, all the while keeping Adams in the fold, and first session in December of '58. Off To the Races just bristles with a crackling excitement that can be immediately sensed via the opening "Lover Come Back To Me." Taken at a brisk tempo, Byrd, Adams, and Jackie McLean through off complex phrases with relative ease, spurred on by Art Taylor's crisp ride cymbal and punctuating snare accents. Keeping with the theme, "When Your Lover Has Come" is by contrast a lush ballad, the trumpeter again impressive in both tone and melodic development. And so it goes for the rest of this propitious debut.
Chronologically, Byrd in Hand is up next and the stakes are raised via the swapping of personnel; tenor man Charlie Rouse is added and Walter Davis spells Wynton Kelly on piano, with bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor still in tow from the previous date. Less focused on standards and taking advantage of the voicings available with a three-horn front line, this 1959 classic has always been a bit neglected. Byrd's three originals are all choice cuts that manage to find new destinations to common locale, with "The Injuns" almost programmatic with its opening tom-toms. Walter Davis contributes two of his own, "Clarion Calls" being a most pleasing line anchored by Adams subterranean counter melody.
Almost two years would go by until Byrd and Adams would again enter the studio for Blue Note, although the pair continued to work together (don't forget about the Half Note recordings) and Byrd managed two more albums for the label with Jackie McLean and Hank Mobley serving as front-line partners. Oddly enough their return to Van Gelder's in April of 1961 yielded an album that would not be released until 1979. Chant is conspicuous for the exposure it gave a young Herbie Hancock, subbing for Duke Pearson, and it's of the quality that certainly would have warranted release at the time. Adams, Byrd, and Hancock are all in fine form, the tunes are meaty, and we get the first chance to hear Pearson's memorable title track. Available for the first time on CD, Chant deserves a better place in Byrd's cannon than where it currently resides.
Issued or not, Chant proved to be no fluke because Blue Note whisked Byrd and Adams into the studio two more times in 1961 to record, although with varying rhythm sections. The Cat Walk found Duke Pearson back in the piano chair, with drummer Philly Joe Jones serving as the ringer. Heavy on Pearson originals, of which "Say You're Mine" is probably the best known, Jones' drum savvy can't help but lift the bandstand. Just check out his creative fills that mightily catapult a take on Neal Hefti's "Cute."
As venerable a record as The Cat Walk proved to be and as consummate a pianist and writer as Duke Pearson was, Byrd and Adams' crowning accomplishment has to be Royal Flush. It is with this record that everything came together in one brief and shining moment. Hancock was back on board and what would become one of Blue Note's house rhythm teams was in place in the guise of bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins. The writing by Byrd and Hancock is a tad more progressive than Blue Note's characteristic hard bop, hinting at the kind of forward-thinking work that would mark Hancock's later engagement with Miles Davis. Everything about Royal Flush works and its first American appearance on disc makes it worth the price of admission alone.
While it would be easy to dismiss the concluding music due to its late date (1967) and subsequent release not until some 14 years later, The Creeper is another neglected gem that is seeing its first CD release here in the States. Adams is still on hand, but a gentleman who would play a key part in Byrd's sessions to come (his last ones of a purely mainstream jazz stance as well) would make his mark too- alto saxophonist Sonny Red. Chick Corea and Miroslav Vitous obviously lend a more modern approach to the proceedings as well, with Corea's "Samba Yantra" and "Chico San" particularly choice.
In distinguishing Mosaic fashion, this collection comes housed in a 12 x 12 box, complete with a 12-page booklet, session annotation, a wealth of Frank Wolff photos, and 24-bit remastering. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check out their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.Collective