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JazzTimes 10: Essential Donald Byrd Recordings

Highlights from the catalog of an underrecognized trumpet great

8. Donald Byrd, “Lansana’s Priestess” (Street Lady; Blue Note, 1973)

Critiques of Byrd’s electric period as being fusion-lite aren’t entirely off base. Come 1973, in fact, they weren’t off base at all: “Lansana’s Priestess” is just a few BPMs above elevator music. Yet if the vibe is very much suave proto-disco, Byrd himself is at the top of his trumpeting game. His lines are as they always were: clean, clear, but with a smoky veneer; carefully balanced between superb technical skill and discrete, concise statements that sound cool against the surprisingly hot drums (courtesy of one Harvey Mason). He even gets in a few truly bravura licks as he follows those steady rolling rhythms. Subsequent recordings would dive deeper into commercial waters—and coincidentally or no, would feature less and less of Byrd’s playing—but within the immediate pleasures of “Lansana’s Priestess,” the trumpeter still had something strong to say.

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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.