Catalog Number: Blue Note 4007 – Previous | Next
Donald Byrd (tp), Jackie McLean (as), Pepper Adams (bs), Wynton Kelly (p), Sam Jones (b), Art Taylor (d)
Cover photo: Francis Wolff
Design: Reid Miles
Liner notes: Joe Goldberg
Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, December 21, 1958.
Originally released March 1959
Date(s) first heard: January 26-27, 2021 (Apple Music)
I first became aware of Donald Byrd more than 25 years ago through his involvement on Guru’s Jazzmatazz records. The late rapper’s deep respect for jazz was evident on these records. And because I’ve always been a listener who has checked out the influences of the performers I’ve enjoyed, looking into Byrd was supposed to be a given. But time has a way of running away from you if you get distracted. Which is a long-winded way of saying that Donald Byrd has been on my musical to-do list for far too long.
Obviously, he’s played with everybody, so I’ve heard him many times on other peoples records. But this is the first time I ever listened to one of his own albums is its entirety. It’s almost (?) embarrassing to write that sentence. But even a long journey begins with a single step and…blah blah blah. I’ll just say that I am very pleased to have a lot more Donald Byrd records in my immediate musical future.
You probably won’t hear this unless you listen to a lot of jazz, but Byrd’s tone is unique among his contemporaries. On the continuum between swagger (Lee Morgan) and intimacy (Miles Davis), Byrd is just slightly closer to the Miles end. Maybe Clifford Brown with a just a suggestion of late ’50s Miles airiness? Ultimately, none of these distinctions are very important. He has a beautiful tone and he plays with intelligence and emotion throughout.
The other horns complement each other well. Pepper Adams often sounding like he was shot out of a cannon. Jackie seemingly in the process of finding his mature sound, relying less on the blazing Bird licks that he regularly turned to even just a year or two earlier. Sometimes sounding like he’s search for something.
Side note: I wonder what Jackie McLean and Byrd would have said if you’d told them that within 10 years, they’d record well over 20 Blue Note between them. In retrospect, we can say that this was the start of the most artistically fruitful decade of both men’s careers. But no one could know that at the time, for nothing is ever as inevitable as hindsight would make it appear.
TL;DR: Hard bop played well. Nothing very memorable, but an important step in the right direction for the major players involved.
Best track: “Down Tempo.”
Miscellaneous: With a Blue Note discography spanning 20 years and two dozen releases, this was Donald Byrd’s first time as session leader for the label.
Sick looking Mercedes on the cover.