Alto saxophonist/arranger Gigi Gryce and trumpeter Donald Byrd's innovative, but unfortunately short-lived Jazz Lab Quintet recorded several sides during 1957, seven of which were released on this excellent Columbia album (a handful of other titles were collectively made for Riverside, Verve, and RCA). The nucleus band of Gryce, Byrd, pianist Tommy Flanagan (a spot also filled by Wade Legge and Hank Jones), bassist Wendell Marshall, and drummer Art Taylor are augmented on four cuts here by trombonists Benny Powell and Jimmy Cleveland, French horn player Julius Watkins, baritone saxophonist Sahib Shihab, and tuba player Don Butterfield. The expanded ensemble turn in fleetly swinging renditions of Horace Silver's "Speculation" and Gryce's "Nica's Tempo," while varying the mood a bit with a ballad reading of Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford" and a Far East-tinged waltz take on Randy Weston's "Little Niles" (shades of Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool group are heard in the complex, yet featherweight arrangements by Gryce). The quintet tracks include Gryce's "Sans Souci" and a provocative version of "Over the Rainbow." With some of the best arrangements heard in jazz and excellent solos by Gryce, Byrd, and Flanagan, Jazz Lab makes for an excellent introduction to the hard bop catalog.
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