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JazzTimes 10: Essential Donald Byrd Recordings

Highlights from the catalog of an underrecognized trumpet great

6. Dexter Gordon Quintet, “Tanya” (One Flight Up; Blue Note, 1964)

Donald Byrd did write “Tanya,” the strikingly moody piece that comprises side one of Dexter Gordon’s 1964 foray into modalism, One Flight Up (recorded in Paris, although Gordon was living in Copenhagen at the time). It’s easily Byrd’s most memorable composition—not least because of its riff, introduced by pianist Kenny Drew with Gordon and Byrd joining in. Byrd begins his solo nearly halfway through, following a masterpiece from Gordon with a masterpiece of his own. Despite its five-and-a-half minute length, it is once again a model of economy, stacked with pithy ideas executed with panache, casual virtuosity, and one ear always on the overall atmosphere of the tune. It also maintains a formidable tension, with a newly assured sense of space (at times letting two full bars go without him). The lack of chordal movement puts fresh focus on Byrd’s pungent, punctilious sound, which is never a bad thing.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.