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Royce Campbell: A Tribute to Charlie Byrd

Matt Merewitz By

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Jazz guitarists have a strong bond since they share a rare commitment to the mastery of the instrument’s place within that context (as opposed to other “more popular" styles). In a century when guitar became the most widely heard and played instrument—in non-jazz settings—jazz guitarists’ dedication to their trade is admirable because they represent a handful of instrumentalists who dare to delve head-on into the jazz idiom. If you think about it, only a handful of guitarists can truly be called jazz legends, compared to the throngs of saxophonists, trumpeters, pianists, bassists, and drummers out there who have received credit for contributed greatly to the music’s development.

The German Jardis label prides itself on producing the finest in today’s jazz guitar. With a lineup consisting of mostly unknowns, Royce Campbell, a star of Washington D.C.’s scene, recently released his second effort for the label, A Tribute to Charlie Byrd. Campbell’s professional connection to Byrd originated in 1998, when the two men and Gene Bertoncini (another DC name) collaborated for a tribute to another six string master, Joe Pass.

When asked by Jardis to do the tribute album, Campbell thought it fitting that Bertoncini be on the project. Having worked closely with the man who had greatly influenced the introduction and acceptance of the Brazilian bossa nova and samba to the jazz world, Campbell appropriately chose to do mostly bossa nova works by Jobim and songs out of the Duke Ellington songbook, tunes that had been close to Byrd’s heart.

While the session's overall sound is highly predictable and laid back, the solo work is magnificent and the overall artistry of the musicians is masterful. Filling out the quartet is a “who’s who” of DC’s thriving jazz scene. Drummer and vibraphonist Chuck Redd displays tasteful stick and brushwork, very reminiscent of the Charlie Byrd “feel” (not surprising since Redd had been Byrd’s own drummer for 19 years). And finally, one of DC’s living jazz legends, Keter Betts, fills in on bass. You might recognize Betts’ name from several years as bassist for both Byrd and the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald.

Highly recommended.

Track Listing: 1) Shiny Stockings (Frank Foster) / 2) Meditation (A.C. Jobim) / 3) The Days Of Wine And Roses (Henry Mancini) / 4) Mood Indigo (Duke Ellington) / 5) How Insensitive (A.C. Jobim) / 6) Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart (James Hanley) / 7) Desafinado (A.C. Jobim) / 8) In A Mellow Tone (Duke Ellington) / 9) Prelude To A Kiss (Duke Ellington) / 10) One Note Samba (A.C. Jobim) / 11) Blues For Charlie (Royce Campbell)

Personnel: Royce Campbell, electric guitar, Gene Bertoncini, acoustic guitar, Chuck Redd, drums, Keter Betts, bass.

Title: A Tribute to Charlie Byrd | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Jardis Music

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