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Jaki Byard - Out Front!
Jaki Byard - Out Front!
I first met Jaki Byard when, as a junior in high school and shortly after realizing during a John Coltrane concert that my life would be in Jazz, I brought the great clarinetist Tony Scott to my school along with Richard Davis, Barry Altschul and Jaki. The sounds he produced from the old upright in the Archbishop Molloy gym was unlike anything I'd ever heard. It was as if the entire history of Jazz piano had been condensed into this one delightfully affable gentleman. After the concert, he answered all of my youthfully enthusiastic questions with the sincerity and clarity of a great teacher, as though he'd never heard them before. Formally, he's educated many of today's best pianists through his work at the New England Conservatory, right up until his horribly tragic murder in 1999, so undeservedly violent for such a sweet soul.

But his music will keep teaching future musicians and fans for many years to come, through his own wonderful recordings, his work with Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus and the amazing recordings with the studio-only quartet of his Mingus bandmate, the incredible tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin.

On 1964's "Out Front!," Jaki's joined by Ervin and another Mingus alumnus, the brilliant and terribly under-recognized trumpeter Richard Williams, along with the bass and drums of Bob Cranshaw and Walter Perkins.

There are four excellent trio tracks, less explosive than much of Jaki's work, but still filled with his uniquely delicious keyboard artistry -- the standard, 'Two Different Worlds,' Billy Strayhorn's gorgeous classic 'Lush Life' and Jaki's own title track, a fitting description of the man to whom it's dedicated, the phenomenal pianist Herbie Nichols.

Another trio track features a rarity, Jaki's fine Parker-ish alto work on 'When Sunny Gets Blue,' recorded in 1961 with Ron Carter and Roy Haynes. There are also two bonus cuts, 'I Like to Lead When I Dance,' basically another trio cut with the horns providing backgrounds; and 'After The Lights Go Down Low,' a light swinger with enjoyable solos by Jaki and the hornmen. But the real highlights are the other two quintet tracks.

'Searchlight,' a straightforward blues, gives Booker a chance to dig deep into his Texas roots. Nobody, but nobody, could play the blues like Book. With his enormous, powerful and overwhelmingly passionate, wailing tone, his short solo here is totally gripping. Williams, like every trumpeter of his generation a disciple of Clifford Brown, turns in a beautiful, articulate and lyrical muted solo, and Jaki, well, is Jaki.

'European Episode' is a skeletal version of a dance suite that Jaki intended for 12 dancers and a 17 piece orchestra, but the quintet version is still a provocative and powerful piece, with the soloists sensitively working within its complex structure.

While the various combinations spread over three recording dates make this less focused than some of Jaki's other album, the variety and personnel more than make up for it.

A highly enjoyable and stimulating recording.

George Lane

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