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Jaki Byard: The Late Show: An Evening With Jaki Byard Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 3

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“It’s born out of tradition and raised by the heart,” says Keystone Korner proprietor Todd Barkan in his introduction to Jaki Byard’s 1979 solo piano set at the San Francisco club. What would probably just be dismissible hyperbole in most cases is apt here: Byard, over the next hour, displays a fluency in the music, placing himself at the center of a Venn diagram of jazz influences as he darts excitedly and proficiently between styles and moods. “This is the last set,” he tells the audience before getting started, “so you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

What does happen is music that’s never approached academically or with pretense or predictability. Byard, comfortable in these surroundings-he played the venue regularly-deftly balances accessibility with experimentation and intricacy with understatement.

Some of this material will be familiar to Byard acolytes: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Hello Young Lovers,” melancholy, casual and sincere, was a standard set-opener for the pianist, and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” its inherent whimsy bobbing up for air occasionally but generally downplayed in favor of off-kilter, darker runs, was another go-to number. According to liner notes author Ethan Iverson, Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” was not a tune that Byard performed often, and one wonders why: Even without the exquisite music, its grand gestures and classically informed sweeps must have been quite arresting visually.

But Byard apparently saved some of his most jaw-dropping pianism for his own compositions: “European Episode,” a showpiece from Byard’s 1965 Out Front! Prestige recording, is abbreviated at the Keystone but more intense than the original, and the back-to-back “Family Suite” and “Spanish Tinge No. 1” skitter from baroque to barrelhouse to flamenco and Latin with seeming ease. The Late Show is the third solo Byard Keystone recording from HighNote; another, released by Resonance, features Byard and Tommy Flanagan duets. Hopefully there’s still more like these in the vault.

Originally Published