When Jaki Byard was murdered early in 1999 it was a blow to jazz music felt by many, but one that is softened slightly when one considers the incredible legacy and eclectic body of work the man left behind as an outcome of his nearly seven decades behind the keys. Over the last several years Prestige has finally been getting around to reissuing all of the invaluable sessions Byard cut for the label during the late 1960s. This disc presents one such session and is brimming with the kind of contagious creativity that was Byard’s regular coinage.
The group assembled for the date was one that had never played together before, but under Byard’s benevolent charge all four men unite in a uniformity of purpose and vision. The opening piece and the later “Second Balcony Jump” visit Byard on alto saxophone trading unison phrases with Owens’ slurred flugelhorn. Byard’s saxophonics aren’t the most technically advanced, but he more than compensates for any lapses in proficiency with a wonderfully fluttering tone. A temperate reading of “I Fall In Love” is taken at trio-speed and Byard’s ivories apply the ideal ointment for sore ears atop Higgins’ mild cymbals. Owens returns on the up-tempo swinger “Olean Visit” and kicks in a clarion solo that incites Byard into a vigorous series of percussive runs. “Spanish Tinge” marks a trip back in time to a live trio date nearly two years previous and features Byard in the collusion with Tucker and Dawson generating a similar brand of verdant swing in front of lucky audience. The whimsical “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” brings the attention back to the original band for a cursory tour through early keyboard styles. Byard takes “GEB Piano Roll” alone building another brilliant paean to pianistic history.
Just about the only drawback to the session is the muddy placement of Chambers in the mix. His bass sounds atypically cloudy and it’s even more distressing considering that the usually indefatigable Van Gelder was behind the studio controls. The aptly titled “P.C. Blues” rectifies matters partly by centering scrutiny on the economical interplay between the bassist and Byard, but it’s still a shame Chambers’ strings weren’t miked better. Taken in stride with the music however this is comparatively a minor complaint. The liners authored by Mark Gardner offer a voluminous appreciation for Byard’s craft and his musical analyses of each piece on the disc are often as illuminating as they are enthusiastic. This disc, like so many others in Byard’s oeuvre expertly captures the fountainhead of jazz tradition that he personified. Easily and highly recommended!
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.