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Early Byrd (Savoy quintet sessions, 1955/56)

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In addition to the Adderley brothers, Kenny Clarke's Savoy album Bohemia After Dark was the recording debut for another major figure of hard bop, trumpeter Donald Byrd. This series of sessions covers Byrd's other collaborations with Clarke on Savoy - aside from his two dates with the Hank Jones Trio in November 1955 - in quintets with Frank Foster, John LaPorta and Hank Mobley. Soon heavily in demand, he would also record during this period on Prestige with George Wallington, Jackie McLean, Gene Ammons and Phil Woods, on Columbia with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and on Blue Note with Horace Silver, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell, Hank Mobley and Sonny Rollins.

"Byrd's Word" (Donald Byrd Quintet)

NYC, September 29, 1955

Donald Byrd, trumpet; Frank Foster, tenor sax; Hank Jones, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Tracks: If I Love Again, Gotcha Goin' And Comin', Winterset, Long Green, Star Eyes, Someone To Watch Over Me

"Before making his mark with several fine Blue Note albums from the late '50s and throughout the '60s, trumpeter Donald Byrd got his start with several blowing dates for Savoy, Prestige, and a few other independents. This 1955 date for Savoy pitted Byrd with Basie alum and tenor saxophonist Frank Foster, pianist Hank Jones, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Kenny Clarke. The group romps through a mix of standards (Someone to Watch Over Me, Star Eyes), a Foster original (Winterset), and some band collaborations. While not on par with Byrd's much more polished efforts for Blue Note, Byrd's Word is fine for fans in the mood for some loose '50s hard bop." - Stephen Cook, AllMusic

"The first date as a leader for young Detroiter Byrd, one of the most important trumpet talents in the past few years. Foster's hard-toned, swing tenor is an asset, but his conception is not up to that of Byrd. Byrd has a swinging tone, generally inventive ideas, and a feeling for wholeness in his choruses. - Nat Hentoff, original Downbeat review (****)

"Dig how a 22-year-old Byrd runs up and down chords in perfectly measured staccato form. Catch Clarke's syncopation and how he works the snare, particularly on Star Eyes. Foster, who was with Basie at the time, plays free and limber here. Jones is lush and Chambers is rock steady. And Byrd and Foster are perhaps best on the ballad Someone to Watch Over Me. The playing is remarkably beautiful." - Mark Myers, JazzWax

"Klook's Clique" (Kenny Clarke Quintet)

NYC, February 6, 1956

Donald Byrd, trumpet; John LaPorta, alto sax; Ronnie Ball, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Tracks: Will Wail, Volcano, La Porta-Thority, I Hear A Rhapsody, Yesterdays, Play Fiddle, Play

This excellent Kenny Clarke session pairs Byrd with altoist John LaPorta, who is featured both on the cover and in the selections. Perhaps due to LaPorta's relative obscurity, this rare album has escaped the attention of critics, other than being designated an "indispensable session by the bop pioneer" on AllMusic by critic David Szatmary. In addition to two sprightly LaPorta originals (La Porta-Authority and Will Wail), Clarke is featured on his own Volcano, an arrangement of Epistrophy that he first recorded in France in 1949 under its original title Iambic Pentameter and later reprised as a big band chart for the Clarke-Boland Big Band in the late 1960s.

"The Jazz Message" (Kenny Clarke/Hank Mobley Quintet)

Session #1, Kenny Clarke Quintet

Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, January 30, 1956

Donald Byrd, trumpet; John LaPorta, alto sax; Horace Silver, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Tracks: Budo, I Married An Angel, The Jazz Message (Freedom For All)

Session #2, Kenny Clarke-Hank Mobley Quintet

Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, February 8, 1956

Donald Byrd, trumpet; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Ronnie Ball, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Tracks: There Will Never Be Another You, Cattin', Madeline, When I Fall In Love

The tracks from the first (Kenny Clarke) session - with almost the same lineup as on Klook's Clique - were grouped with those of another February session two days later as The Jazz Message, which was reissued in the CD era as a Hank Mobley album, despite Mobley's absence from the first date. Of the second date, the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD writes: "Mobley's early records are customarily ignored, but the Jazz Message sessions for Savoy are probably as strongly delivered as anything he did in the 1950s. The four [Mobley] tracks on The Jazz Message are played with great feeling and sensitivity, with Madeline being an especially worthwhile ballad; even Byrd plays slightly above his usual faceless competence."

"Jazz Message #2" (Hank Mobley Quintet)

Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, July 23, 1956

Donald Byrd, trumpet; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Barry Harris, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Tracks: B. For B.B., Space Flight, Blues Number Two (first of two sessions, Side B of LP release)

"Impressive lineups, both in the front line and the rhythm section, fuel the 1956 sessions on this Savoy reissue. The players are committed, the writing is good, and the performances reward repeated listening. The result is a worthwhile precursor to the industry-standard hard bop Mobley would later record for Blue Note. [...] Donald Byrd, on form and playing with crispness and authority, moves into the trumpet chair for [these] three tracks, [...] with Barry Harris on piano, Kenny Clarke on drums, and Doug Watkins on bass. The influence on Mobley of swing era tenors, from Lester Young to Illinois Jacquet, can be clearly heard. Mobley's respect for and understanding of the pre-bebop style serve him well in his contribution to the development of the predominant jazz style that followed bebop. The standout track is Mobley's Space Flight, a bright, up-tempo bop number that has memorable solos from Mobley, Byrd, Harris, and Clarke." - Jim Todd, AllMusic

"This day, LJC showcases Mobley’s “Jazz Message #2” (a Savoy recording). Not to be confused with “Mobley’s 2nd Message” (a Prestige recording), Mobley’s follow-up to his penultimate Message for a rival label. Message for Mr Mobley: who on earth thought up these titles? Because I’ve got a message for them, enough with the messages!" - LondonJazzCollector (LJC)

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