By the mid-'50s, tenor saxophonist Don Byas was well into his residency in Europe, one of the very first American expatriate jazzmen, and as such never to permanently return. These three separate sessions recorded in Paris between 1953 and 1955 show Byas as well-developed in the bebop mode, teamed with Mary Lou Williams, Beryl Booker, or Fats Sadi/Maurice Vander-led combos, respectively. The vocal, lyrical quality of Byas is present and accounted for on these well-recorded, fairly brief tracks that span an interesting expanse of swinging jazz that could hardly be called conservative, and is not to be taken lightly. Williams (who also recorded in Paris for the Vogue label at about this time) is the star she always has been, composing four of their six cuts. Her classic "O.W." is included, a sneaky, easy swinging, low-cut, sweet blues as a perfect vehicle for the straight tenor of Byas. As the program continues, you hear the singing vibrato of the tenorman come more to the forefront on the emotional "Lullaby of the Leaves," a version of "Moonglow" where his horn is leaping octaves, the sighing "Mary's Waltz," and the ballad "Why?" crying out for an explanation. Though the Byas sound is based on Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins, he's asserting himself in more individual boppish terms for the fast "N.M.E.," as flying single notes present themselves with Williams in an impressive, precise phalanx form. It's a memorable European reunion for these two true stars of mainstream jazz. With pianist Booker's all-female band featuring bassist Bonnie Wetzel and drummer Elaine Leighton, they do a straight-no-chaser jam "Beryl Booker's Byas-ed Blues," and "Makin' Whoopee" with Byas in late on the improvised bridge. "I Should Care" has Booker singing in a classy style reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan, with the tenor again as an afterthought. There are two of the three previously unissued tracks from vibraphonist Sadi and pianist Vander in a quintet, supported by bassist Pierre Michelot. It is the Belgian Sadi who is most enjoyable on the good bop take of "Lover Come Back to Me," where he plays a lovely second chorus, a version of Duke Jordan's "Jordu," where double stops prevail and Sadi plays a very interesting harmonic aside, while the lone Byas original on the set, "Anatole," is a basic swinger with few frills at about three minutes of brief discourse. The variety of this program makes it interesting, and as very few recordings of Don Byas are available since he left the U.S., this makes it a valuable commodity, to be purchased but not traded. It also reinforces his unquestioned grand legacy with an extraordinary performance. For better or worse, unfortunately, Byas remains the most underrated or even unappreciated tenor saxophonist to span the gap from swing to big bands to bop.
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