Don Byas Quartet

Don Byas Quartet Featuring Sir Charles Thompson

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Don Byas, believing he was never going to get the recognition he deserved in the United States because of racial bias, left the U.S. for Europe and never looked back. Virtually all of his good work was done on the Continent. Usually cited as one of the first tenor sax players to take up the "new music" that had exploded on the scene through Charlie Parker's alto, Byas never let go of his romantic and swinging roots. This reissue of a freewheeling live performance reveals the success that the Oklahoma native enjoyed in merging these influences into his recognizable sax sound. Tracks such as "Gone With the Wind" and "Darn That Dream" recall Byas' classic 1953 outing with Mary Lou Williams, in which he brought the ballad sax to a new level. At the same time, "Autumn Leaves" brings to the fore the tenor man's bop proclivities, which he so eloquently waxed on his mid-'40s Savoy sides. On a lengthy -- more than seven-minute -- "Tenderly," he engages in noteworthy improvisation. "But Not for Me" swings mightily, recalling Byas' days with the Count Basie Orchestra when he had taken over Lester Young's chair. Byas is joined on this set by another émigré, pianist Sir Charles Thompson. These two played together on New York's 52nd Street during the early days of bop, before departing for more appreciative shores. Thompson took a relatively simplistic, uncluttered approach to the piano, leaving lots of space between the chords. This creates a favorable contrast with the sometimes busy sax of Byas. The result is more than an hour of solid quartet playing from two of jazz history's more neglected figures. Don Byas seems destined to forever be known as an artist who deserved greater recognition. This reissue by Denmark's Storyville label should help move the tenor sax player away from that unflattering categorization. The only complaint with this CD is that sometimes Thompson sounds as if he's playing the piano in the next room. Despite that flaw, this album is recommended.

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