A reissue of a session originally released in 1961, Motor City Scene is an excellent example of the wealth of talent in the Detroit area during the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Co-led by trumpeter Donald Byrd and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, the cast includes a veritable who’s who of jazzmen on their respective instruments: pianist Tommy Flanagan, guitarist Kenny Burrell, bassist Paul Chambers, and the drums of Louis Hayes.
The opening cut, Hoagy Carmichael’s ballad “Star Dust,” is music to get lost in. With Adams and Burrell laying out, we’re treated to Byrd’s majestic tone, reverence for the song’s melody, and exquisite sense of drama. Not to be outdone, Flanagan makes a lovely statement of his own before Byrd enters for a second solo and takes the tune out. Adams shines on his own composition “Philson,” when he begins lazily and then develops lines with his customary bite and precision. Chambers’ rock solid walking bass and Hayes’ crackling snare drum accents ignite an up-tempo version of Errol Garner’s “Trio,” in which Burrell takes three striking choruses of single note lines. The highlight of the session is another Adams’ tune, “Libeccio.” The alternating Latin and straight jazz sections seem to bring out the best in all of the soloists who are clearly inspired by Hayes’ fills.
The session ends with “Bitty Ditty,” a memorable composition by another Detroit area jazzman, Thad Jones, which features some of Flanagan’s best playing on the date. The five cuts and (by today’s standards) short playing time of Motor City Scene left me wanting more.