If anyone wanted to record a history of jazz piano, it could have been done by Jaki Byard, an incredibly versatile pianist who could play virtually any style. However, Byard was too cagey to have approached a project of that magnitude, preferring to meld his influences within the space of a single composition. Utilizing a method that at times seemed as if Eubie Blake’s left hard and Cecil Taylor’s right hand were playing in Art Tatum’s style, Byard created a series of recordings that didn’t always click, but were always intriguing and never boring.
Byard has been gone for a few years, so it’s a treat to have this unreleased live set to enjoy. All the Byard trademarks are here, from the off-kilter rhythm of the Mingus-ish “Dolphy” to the daring “St. Mark’s Place Among the Sevens,” as good an example of free jazz as any. Byard even shows his sense of humor by playing a ballad medley at a dizzying pace before the rest of the band joins in. The live setting allows the pianist to explore all the possible permutations of a tune with few time restrictions, and one can only imagine what kind of audience at Lennie’s was willing to follow this artist around the stylistic globe.
Byard frequently recorded with a trio, most likely having problems finding sidemen who could follow his quirky vision. His sessions with larger ensembles were uneven, and even his records with Roland Kirk had the feel of two wily veterans trying to outfox each other rather than working together. However, Joe Farrell proved to be the perfect multi-instrumentalist to accompany Byard, able to anticipate his moves and alter his style to suit the chimerical tunes. Farrell, a relatively obscure musician, has been well-served with reissues in 2003 with this record and Andrew Hill’s Passing Ships, and both should finally cement his legacy.
The rhythm section as well shows a deep understanding of what Byard was after; George Tucker gets some tasty bass solos (somewhat of an accomplishment in its own right) and Alan Dawson is able to play straight or avoid the obvious, as the occasion merits. Add excellent sound and mastering and you have a record that exemplifies that best that Byard had to offer.
1. Twelve 2. Dolphy #1 3. After You've Gone/Strolling Along 4. St. Mark's Place Among the Sevens 5. Dolphy #2 6. Jaki Byard's Ballad Medley: Tea For Two/Lover/Strolling Along/Cherokee/Shiny Stockings 7. King David.
Jaki Byard-piano; Joe Farrell-tenor and soprano sax, flute; George Tucker-bass; Alan Dawson-drums.
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