188

Jaki Byard: A Matter of Black and White

Charles Walker By

Sign in to view read count
Jaki Byard: A Matter of Black and White Curious title for this album. Sure, it's a nice pun on the pianistic adventures included, but with the possible exception of Duke Ellington or Mary Lou Williams, there was hardly another jazz pianist of the mid-20th Century who saw more gray areas in the music's broad landscape than the late Jaki Byard. In his trio sessions for Prestige, his work with Charles Mingus, or in his late-period solo recitals, anything from James P. Johnson's charging stride figures to Earl Hines' unbridled, multi-octave runs to the dissonant colorations of Andrew Hill are likely to be encountered. Here, and everywhere else he played, jazz was not an either/or proposition, with clear demarcations. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Culled from a series of live dates at San Francisco's Keystone Korner in the late 1970s, A Matter of Black and White (the second released so far) finds Byard long since settled into his chameleonic style. Unlike either Ellington or Williams, he was not particularly concerned with composition, other than in the improvisatory sense. So as usual, Byard delivers a hodgepodge selection of standards and tributes, with the occasional original thrown in for good measure. But the meat of the program lies in the way he incorporates wildly disparate styles into their unfolding, all the while retaining an identifiably personal voice.

A perfect example of this technique is Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." If the original is a rather uninspiring, early century pop song, here it becomes a conduit for increasingly complex rhythmic and harmonic reinvention. Byard opens with an ivory-tickling, stride-marching run through the main melody, and then drifts into more exploratory, abstracted territory with each subsequent chorus, until by the end huge arpeggiated waves drown his offbeat, left-handed bass lines with cliffhanging pyrotechnics. Petula Clark's "I Know A Place" picks up a hard-driving boogie- woogie tinge, and the usually maudlin "Hello Young Lovers" develops from a lush, sweeping opening cadenza into an entire wall of staccato, octave-leaping, up-tempo runs. Both the Billie Holiday medley near the beginning of the set, and the Ellington medley that closes it, make the case for the pianist being the closest thing jazz ever had to a living, breathing Smithsonian: a repository for American musical heritage, sluiced through the music's here-and-now imperative. The first is elegant, the latter expansive.

In recent years, Byard has reached many listeners in a very indirect way: through his work as a teacher and mentor, most notably to pianist Jason Moran. As for Byard himself, this means that he has become a central precursor to many of the conglomerated trends that have so far defined jazz's second century. This set, on the tail end of several decades of fearless exploration, may not be his most engrossing work (Mingus' 1964 tour of Europe is) or his most educative (teaching in some of America's greatest music departments). It is, however, a fine place to sample some of what makes him such a unique talent.

Track Listing: Seasons; Billie Holiday Tribute: God Bless The Child/Lover Man; Alexander's Ragtime Band; Hello Young Lovers; Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans; I Know A Place; 'Round Midnight; Sunday; Ellington-Strayhorn Medley: Lush Life/Day Dream/Johnny Come Lately.

Personnel: Jaki Byard: piano.

Title: A Matter of Black and White | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: HighNote Records


Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends CD/LP/Track Review Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Heaven On Their Minds CD/LP/Track Review Heaven On Their Minds
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Unnatural  Events CD/LP/Track Review Unnatural Events
by Roger Farbey
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Rediscovered Ellington CD/LP/Track Review Rediscovered Ellington
by James Nadal
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Clean CD/LP/Track Review Clean
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 15, 2017
Read Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations CD/LP/Track Review Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 15, 2017
Read "Buer: Book Of Angels Volume 31" CD/LP/Track Review Buer: Book Of Angels Volume 31
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: June 25, 2017
Read "The Many Minds of Richie Cole" CD/LP/Track Review The Many Minds of Richie Cole
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: April 24, 2017
Read "Forgiveness Suite" CD/LP/Track Review Forgiveness Suite
by John Sharpe
Published: November 15, 2016
Read "Solstice" CD/LP/Track Review Solstice
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: November 25, 2016
Read "Sopranoville: New Works for the Prepared and Non-Prepared Saxophone" CD/LP/Track Review Sopranoville: New Works for the Prepared and Non-Prepared...
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 13, 2017
Read "Pandora's Bag" CD/LP/Track Review Pandora's Bag
by Geannine Reid
Published: July 25, 2017

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.