Carlos Wesley "Don" Byas openly claimed to represent a third stream of tenor sax, somewhere between Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. In truth, he sounded most like the mature Hawkins, also sharing stylistic traits with Pres, Budd Johnson, Lucky Thompson and Ben Webster. Most importantly, he sounded like himself. Four sides recorded for the "Jamboree" label in October 1945 feature the extraordinary piano of Johnny Guarnieri. "Once in a While" comes across like a lullaby compared to the rip-snorting "Avalon," notable for J.C. Heard's fiery drumming. "Blue and Sentimental," forever associated with Count Basie's star tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans, is soulfully rendered here. "Melancholy Baby" sounds a lot like the kind of records Hawkins was making for the Keynote label in 1945 -- this recording, in fact, could effectively be used to stump jazz experts during blindfold tests. In a remarkable follow-up, the next session turns Erroll Garner loose in the company of Slam Stewart and Harold "Doc" West. The Savoy session (after Byas stretches out with "Candy" all to himself) features trumpeter Benny Harris. "How High the Moon" bristles with be bop changes, and "Donby" is recognizable as Byas' extension of Juan Tizol's "Perdido." "Byas a Drink" is a sort of be bop rhumba. In a strange chronology defying maneuver -- and without altering the title of the CD -- Classics has tacked on two sessions from 1944. Throughout his career, trumpeter Emmett Berry was almost never designated as a leader. On August 31 1944, the quintet bearing his name was graced with a rhythm section consisting of Dave Rivera, Milt Hinton and J.C. Heard. The music speaks of new ideas in the making, even if Berry swings rather than bops. Recorded on 12 " 78 rpm records allowing for nearly four minutes per side, the Cyril Haynes Sextet, starring Byas and the nearly forgotten trumpeter Dick Vance, featured electrified guitar solos by Al Casey with strong rhythmic support from -- once again -- Harold "Doc" West. Here, then, is a fat parcel of solid sessions from the life of Don Byas, well-worth hearing again and again.
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