A common critique leveled at Charlie Byrd throughout his career suggested that he was incapable of ‘letting his hair down’ so to speak. His guitar playing was of such consistently high caliber that many critics took his impeccable technique as a sign of pompousness and egotism. The reality is that Byrd was equally adept in a lofty concert hall or smoky jazz club and he viewed either environment as a fitting place to unveil his chops. Byrd’s Word is definitely cut directed at the former setting however, and finds Byrd paying tribute to the Showboat, a venerable D.C. nightspot that was instrumental in his earlier development as a performer.
The album is a mixed bag that suffers some from what seems like a forced diversity of material. On all but three of the numbers Byrd wields amplified strings instead of his usual acoustic ones. Five tracks feature him fronting a sextet with the flexible horns of Hill and Felder. Two more, “Blue Turning Grey Over You” and “Don’t Explain” team him with his wife in vocal/acoustic guitar duets. His regular working trio with Betts and Knox makes appearances on a pair of others. Of the remaining tracks, “Bobby In Bassoonville,” is a vehicle for Pasamanick who sits in for Hill, and is really nothing more than an up-tempo swinger dressed in the novelty of its lead instrument. Hill’s velvety intro and exit work on the delicate reading of “What’s New” is far more effective. The most interesting tune though is “Conversation Piece,” an impromptu duet between Byrd on acoustic guitar, and Betts on cello. Bett’s nimble pizzicato patterns blend seductively with Byrd’s lissome strums and create an engaging blend of Country and chamber influences. Digested in succession the tracks on this disc are all over the map and though intentionally so it still ends up sounding somewhat disjointed and contrived. There’s far better Byrd available for consumption and compared to the master’s standing body of work this offering ends up being something of a disappointment.
Track Listing: Byrd
Personnel: Charlie Byrd- guitar; Bobby Felder- valve trombone; Buck Hill- tenor saxophone; Kenneth Pasmanick-bassoon; T. Carson- piano; Keter Betts- bass, cello; Bertell Knox- drums; Eddie Phyfe- drums; Charlie Schneer- piano. Recorded: 1958, Washington, D.C.