Alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe remains a reassuring exemplar of the rooted revolutionary. To be sure, he is less intent on pushing the musical envelope these days, but his aggressive tone and harmonic approach won't let the listener take him for granted. Working here in (and out of) a quartet setting, Blythe dances deftly between what we know and what he wants to show us.
His primary collaborator on Blythe Byte is John Hicks, whose support on three duet outings is sympathetic and assured. Bassist Dwayne Dolphin and drummer Cecil Brooks III complete the ensemble. From the opening track, his own "Hardly," Blythe serves up his distinctive sound, redolent of R&B and the lingering spice of sophisticated harmony. Three Monk tunes add their own character to the mix. Hicks puts an elegant spin on "Blue Monk" (a quartet take) and "Light Blue," and gives "Ruby, My Dear" a similarly understated frame; this gives Blythe all the support he needs, as he focuses on melody throughout, working around the obvious rhythmic temptations. The title track is truly a gem, a 39-second unaccompanied rhapsody that is worth the price of admission.