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Jaki Byard: On the Spot!

C. Andrew Hovan By

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It is without exaggeration to suggest that the late Jaki Byard was probably one of the most complete pianists that jazz has seen or will likely ever see again. For this iconoclast, everything from the stride of James P. Johnson to the thundering cacophony of Cecil Taylor was fair game for further maturation and he managed to develop a style that took in the music's history, combining disparate elements with deceptive ease.

Beginning in 1961, Byard would embark on what would become some of the finest jazz recordings of his career. His eleven Prestige sides, many of which are true jazz classics, could easily serve as a mini-course in the history of jazz piano. Each project presented a new challenge for Byard and he experimented with different ensemble combinations, along with writing animated originals and carefully choosing from the scope of American standards.

On the Spot! comes from the middle of Byard's Prestige tenure and for the most part finds him fronting a quartet with trumpeter Jimmy Owens. Two cuts present examples of Byard as a tart and soulful alto saxophonist, while one trio cut comes from an earlier session recorded live at Lennie's-on-the-Turnpike. The diversity we've come to expect from this pianist is in full force, so "Alexander's Ragtime Band" manages to take on new life one would have never expected possible. "Geb Piano Roll" also updates the stride tradition in a way that only Byard could manage.

All of Jaki's major works are must-hear events that belong in any comprehensive collection. Eventually, it is hoped that Fantasy will bring to the reissue front such further classics as Jaki Byard with Strings and The Sunshine of My Soul. But in the meantime, please excuse the pun when it's suggested that On the Spot! hits the spot!

Track Listing: A-Toodle-oo, Toodle-oo/ I Fall In Love Too Easily/ Olean Visit/ Spanish Tinge/ Alexander

Personnel: Collective Jaki Byard- piano, alto saxophone; Jimmy Owens- trumpet, tambourine; Paul Chambers- double bass; George Tucker- double bass; Billy Higgins- drums; Alan Dawson- drums.

Title: On the Spot! | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Prestige Records

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