Donald Byrd

Jazz Lab/Modern Jazz Perspective

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The Jazz Lab Quintet was a top-flight outfit of leading players, co-led by trumpeter Donald Byrd and altoist Gigi Gryce, that was active in 1957. This re-issue pulls together two releases from that year, both featuring strong writing, arranging, and solo spots. Gryce, as chief arranger and writer, is the key figure. He's also an appealing saxophonist, playing with the same joy heard in his best-known compositions, "$Minority" and "Nica's Dream." Byrd, a faceless player at times, is in top form here, a worthy heir to Clifford Brown, whose place Byrd took in the Max Roach quintet following Brownie's death in 1956. Mention of the Roach-Brown group is pertinent, as the JLQ work a similar transitional space between bop and hard bop. Another key influence, Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool, can be heard in the six performances where the quintet is fleshed out with parts for trombone, tuba, french horn, and baritone sax. Here the arrangements evoke the close, rich harmonies of Gil Evans' arrangements for the classic Davis sessions from 1949. With the exceptions of a borderline kitschy "Over the Rainbow" and Jackie Paris' corny vocal on "Early Morning Blues," the performances and material are solid across both sessions. Highlights include great versions of Benny Golson's "Stablemates" and "I Remember Clifford," Randy Weston's "Little Niles," and several originals from Gryce. Paris also redeems himself with masterful scat singing on Byrd's "Elgy."

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