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August 2008

Chris Byars
Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art
Smalls

After covering the waterfront of jazz classicists George Shearing, Tadd Dameron and George Gershwin on his first record and conjuring energetic originals with the hard bop of Blue Note’s best on Photos in Black, White and Gray, all-around saxophonist Chris Byars goes for some West Coast cool for number three. That he’s a Manhattanite tied into education/composition with a crew as New Yorkish as the Yankees makes no difference. It’s Los Angeles 1954 in Byars’ mind.

With each of his newest tunes paired to sculptures and paintings at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, Byars’ Jazz Pictures mix-and-mingles the coasts in deed and sound. There’s a muscular arm-wrestling match about “The Better to See You,” with Byars and trombonist John Mosca trading licks and kicks, and a warmly rapturous “Arhat” that allows the saxophonist to play in the fields of Gerry Mulligan inspiration. “Rahula” simply dances with glee with all players at cheery attention. There’s a mellow cello (actually a quietly sawed bass) workout with Byars’ longtime associate Ari Roland on “Blues Under the Boddhi Tree” that’s potently playful.

There’s a lot of classically imbued moments that are hard to place, like the snake-charmer call of “Chakrasamvara” and “Just Ask,” where Byars, the flautist, runs free against the spare kick of timpani while his brother James Byars runs roughshod through the blur with his oboe at its ready. These moments, despite their sonorousness, are unafraid of quick, noisy interludes and nerve-grating (in a good way) repetition. Brave stuff.

Originally published in August 2008
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