Attention, jazz critics: Dig the passion, spontaneity, and ingenuity at play here, and then talk to me about those cats in the penguin suits up at Lincoln Center trying to teach the rich tourists in the audience to clap on two and four. Puhleeze. Byard Lancaster came up in an era when any jazz musician worth a damn would sooner cut off a hand than copy someone else. And even though this album might be considered an homage of sorts—Lancaster covers tunes associated with Coltrane and Rollins and uses two bassists, as Trane sometimes did—this is the most distinctive and moving performance by a hardcore jazz musician I’ve heard in many a moon.
Lancaster plays gutty, expressive postbop soprano, alto and tenor saxes and African flute, with nary a contrived gesture or second-hand idea to be found. Bassists Ed Crockett and Bert Harris and drummer Harold E. Smith provide Lancaster with all the support he needs and then some.
Highlights are many, but I get chills and a chuckle when Lancaster unexpectedly ends “I’m an Old Cowhand” with a paraphrase of Rollins’ “St. Thomas.” Forget that Upper West Side wax-museum stuff. This is what great jazz sounds like.