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The Charlie Byrd Trio: Au Courant

Robert Spencer By

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Au Courant indeed! Here's Charlie Byrd playing W.C. Handy, Rodgers and Hart, Jobim, Johnny Mercer, and, for goodness' sake, Henry Mancini with nothing but an acoustic guitar, his brother Joe's upright bass, and Chuck Redd's vibraphone! Does it work? Does it work! These are highly familiar songs played in a quiet, intimate setting that illustrates with peculiar and intoxicating vividness why these guys' songs have lasted this long. The no-voltage setting turns one's attention to the melodies, revealing aspects of them that may have been obscured before by the pizzazz of the presentation: "St. Louis Blues"'s tango feel, for one. We also have Rodgers and Hart's "This Can't Be Love" played with Doc Watsonian finger-picking fervor. We have "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" light and danceable. "There'll Be Some Changes Made" bouncy and ragtimy.

Charlie Byrd will be 73 in 1998, and he's pretty set in his ways. The same criticisms that have been leveled against some of his earlier albums can be set against Au Courant as well: no adventure, no chances, no unexpected choices of material, no lack of high-gloss in the production. All that may be true, but Au Courant is particularly valuable for the stripped-down presentations-it's fresh, enlightening, and entertaining.

Other tracks include Jobim's "If You Never Came to Me," R & H's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "Blue Room," "Have You Met Miss Jones?" and "There's a Small Hotel," "Emily" by Mercer, "Days of Wine and Roses" by Mancini, and "Avalon" and "Willow Weep for Me." With but minor changes this could have been recorded in 1967 instead of 1997, but only on a nice day.


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