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The late Charlie Byrd was one of those jazz figures whose choice of instrument alone made him stand out. His nylon-string guitar was ideally suited to the bossa nova idiom, in which he made his most famous historical contributions. This two-disc package captures Byrd a bit later in his career — specifically, the period from 1979 until his death in December 1999, during which he released 20 albums for Concord Records.
These Concord highlights are remarkably varied, not only in terms of style but also in terms of instrumentation. A number of them feature Byrd and his regular trio with bassist Joe Byrd and drummer Wayne Phillips. Chuck Redd replaces Phillips on the later cuts, switch-hitting on vibes for "As Long As I Live," "St. Louis Blues," and "This Can’t Be Love." Needless to say, a nylon-string/vibes/bass combo is a rarity in jazz, and so the sounds on these tracks are especially unusual and rewarding. A number of smooth-toned woodwind players appear, including tenorist Scott Hamilton, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, and altoist Bud Shank. Peplowski’s haunting work on "Don’t Explain" is a standout. Several other selections — most notably Bix Beiderbecke’s "Candlelights" — feature Byrd with an all-guitar quintet. Fellow nylon-stringers Laurindo Almeida, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, and Romero Lubambo also rear their heads during the course of compilation, as do Steve Wilson and a very young Larry Grenadier. "Cottontail" and "Besame Mucho" feature the most arresting combo of all, however: the "Hot Club De Concord," with Byrd, Johnny Frigo on violin, Hendrik Meurkens on harmonica, Frank Vignola on rhythm guitar, and Michael Moore on bass.
At times Byrd’s single-note phrasing on the nylon-string can be a bit clunky, particularly on straight swing numbers like "It Don’t Mean a Thing." But the instrument’s resonant, intimate qualities come through on most of the collection, especially the two solo guitar arrangements, "I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan" and "The Christmas Song" (the latter misidentified in the listings as a trio piece).