Plays Jaki Byard

Benjamin Herman

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Plays Jaki Byard Review

by Ken Dryden

Although the late Jaki Byard recorded extensively as a leader and soloist, as well as composing a fair body of original music, he is remembered most for his work as a sideman with the likes of Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy. Alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman sought to correct this oversight by dedicating most of a CD to Byard's songs, accompanied by pianist Pierre Christophe (who studied with Byard for four years in New York), bassist Jos Machtel, and drummer Joost van Schalk. "Tribute to Jimmy Slide" makes for an impressive opener. Byard's tribute to the well-known tap dancer was first conceived as a piano solo, but Christophe adapted it for the quartet, with the pianist incorporating some of Byard's keyboard techniques without sounding like a clone. "D.D.L.J." was written for Byard's two daughters and wife (he is the "J"); Herman's alto sax easily negotiates the demanding changes in this uptempo piece. "Aluminum Baby" is a jaunty but easygoing ballad, complete with an amusing reference to "Satin Doll," while "Two-Five-One" is a hard bop masterpiece devoured whole by the quartet. Herman soars in the deceptively funky blues "Out Front," while Christophe detours into a hilarious Erroll Garner-tinged solo for a time. Byard, who was occasionally known to pick up and play an alto sax during a recording session or concert, would have been pleased with Herman's interpretation. "Sagapo" is the least eclectic of the Byard compositions heard on this disc, though that hardly means it is easy to play. The relaxed groove within "Strolling Along" (aka "Just Rollin' Along") is the perfect choice for wrapping the date, with outstanding solos by both Herman and Christophe. Christophe composed the lovely, relaxed ballad "Never Again," though all he admitted to the leader of the date was that he had a major hangover when he wrote it! The sound on this hybrid Super Audio CD is amazing, but better still is that it features musicians who not only had the foresight to explore the music of the late Jaki Byard, but are also able to meet it head on.

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