Donald Byrd

Byrd Blows on Beacon Hill

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This 1956 (released in 1957) session is Donald Byrd's quartet session. Utilizing a rhythm section of Beacon Hill's finest -- bassist Doug Watkins, pianist Ray Santisi, and drummer Jim Zitano -- Byrd establishes himself here as an individual voice on the trumpet and as a leader as well. The material is comprised of well-known standards and catalog jazz tunes such as "Stella by Starlight," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "People Will Say We're in Love," "If I Love Again," and "What's New"; it's hardly the high-flying hard bop material that became his signature during his early years at Blue Note. Mostly the pace is slow, easy, and swinging, with enough of the funky blues Byrd would blow later to make these nuggets sound interesting. Byrd's interpretation of older material like this was one of both observance and phrasing. He never overplays either on the vamping lyric or in his solos. Likewise, his rhythm section keeps things spare, if not necessarily simple. Nowhere is this more evident than in "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," where the melody is inverted after the first three choruses have been played, but it is never overstated or broken apart, just observed and actively pursued for its chromatic richness. Byrd's tone is not quite as biting as it would become in later years, though it is imbued with the same ghostly timbral grace that distinguished him as a soloist. While this date may not be of interest to Byrd's soul-jazz fans, it will no doubt enlighten those who are partial to Byrd's early Blue Note material.

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