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July/August 2000

Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams
The Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Studio Sessions
Mosaic Records

Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams had a very fruitful association beginning in the late '50s and continuing through the late '60s. Both came of age in Detroit's hard bop scene of the early '50s before teaming up in '58 in New York. By then, Byrd's stints with the Jazz Messengers and Max Roach's band, and recording dates with John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, had made him one of jazz's hottest young trumpeters. Adams had become a viable hard bop alternative to Gerry Mulligan, even though labels like Savoy released his early records with such misleading titles as The Cool Sound of Pepper Adams. Over the next decade, they recorded 11 albums together, mostly under Byrd's name, including the six fine Blue Note studio dates collected in this four-disc Mosaic set.
Eight months after making their first live recording for Riverside, Byrd and Adams recorded a sextet session with Jackie McLean, Wynton Kelly, Sam Jones and Art Taylor that is appropriately titled Off to the Races. Byrd and Adams already have considerable skill in tapping the pulse of the times on this December '58 outing, using cool struttin' tempos and bluesy march rhythms to build satisfying originals, retooling a memorable tune from a contemporary classic (Sonny Rollins' "Paul's Pal," taken at a slower pace than the Tenor Madness version) and sending standards like "Lover Come Back to Me" into warp drive.
This strategy was refined for Byrd in Hand, a May '59 recording that retained Jones and Taylor, and brought Charlie Rouse and Walter Davis Jr. on board. The first of two real differences between the two dates is in the writing. Byrd was coming into his own as a composer with tunes like "Here I Am," in which a gliding melody is anchored by a five-note ostinato to create a pensive mood. Davis also hands in a pair of well-crafted compositions-"Bronze Dance," which pivots between Latin and straightahead grooves, and "Clarion Calls," which uses an unusual structure to accentuate a stirring theme. The other difference is Rouse, whose relaxed sense of swing contrasts well against Byrd and Adams.
The team of Byrd and Adams then had, by Blue Note standards, a lengthy break from Van Gelder's studio of almost two years before recording Chant, which was Herbie Hancock's Blue Note debut (Byrd and Hancock's work together through the '60s would make an excellent box set). Though the quintet, rounded out by Doug Watkins and Teddy Robinson, hands in solid performances on durable soul jazz vehicles penned by Byrd and Duke Pearson (Byrd, Adams and Pearson had recorded the title tune live at the Half Note some months before)-not to mention a rare Adams-led quartet track, a trenchant take on "Sophisticated Lady"-this album was shelved until 1979, due perhaps to the availability in short order of a superior album, The Cat Walk.
It was only two weeks later that the quintet, now with Pearson, Laymon Jackson and Philly Joe Jones, would wax The Cat Walk, an album that argues that the collaboration was for a time a three-way proposition, as Pearson wrote three of the six tunes, and co-wrote a fourth with Byrd, the lyrical, swinging "Each Time I Think of You." Jones' energizing pulse and Pearson's compositional ability to add tangy twists to what had by then become the formulae of hard bop and soul jazz puts this album a cut above Chant. Pearson's skills are in evidence on the aptly titled "Duke's Mixture," where he throws a staccato phrase into a broad shuffle rhythm and brassy blues theme to foreshadow a wistful sub-text. Given Pearson's future incarnation as a producer, it's interesting to speculate about his input on this uplifting sequence of tunes.
Recorded in late '61 with a rhythm section comprised of Hancock, Butch Warren and Billy Higgins, Royal Flush inches towards the prototypes of the post hard bop jazz that Hancock and others were beginning to articulate. Ostinati are more contoured, harmonies are stretched a tad more and thematic materials have a touch of emotional ambivalence on Byrd originals like "Jorgie's" and "Shangra-La." Yet cool blues like Byrd's "6 M's," Hancock's testifying "Requiem" and Byrd's sassy title tune signal that they were not diving headlong into the heady waters of advanced jazz.
John Coltrane had been dead almost three months when Byrd and Adams recorded their last Blue Note album, The Creeper, with a truly unlikely band including Sonny Red, Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous and Mickey Roker. The program is a stylistic hodgepodge, with blues, sambas and modal workouts thrown together, but the band's incessant drive holds the program together. Both Byrd and Adams are very comfortable and fluent with the compositional innovations that had by this time become part of jazz's mainstream. Red proves to be a very compatible front line partner and Roker's straightahead grooves leavened Corea's harmonic extensions and gave Vitous cover as the bassist introduced piquant counter-rhythms. Still, what is among the freshest music in this collection languished in the vaults until 1981. Mail order only: www.mosaicrecords.com; 203-327-7111.

Originally published in July/August 2000
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