Five Donald Byrd albums you must have

Posted by : admin | On : February 8, 2013

With news of trumpeter Donald Byrd’s death at the age of 80 earlier this week, I thought I’d relaunch Hard Bop Eights with a tribute to him.

Here are five Blue Note albums of Byrd’s I’d recommend to anyone. Each rewards multiple listens; I’m usually drawn to one or two songs immediately, and then over time others cast their spell, either because of Byrd’s solo or someone else’s, or because a tune that seemed awkward at first comes together once I’ve caught the hook.

The 1959 Blue Note LP “Fuego” is one of five Donald Byrd albums that should be part of any jazz collection.

1. “Fuego” (1959)
Here, Jackie McLean’s alto lends muscular support as Byrd leads the group through a fascinating set. Highlights include the title track, the plaintive “Lament” (where McLean’s solo defines “souful” and dominates the cut), and blues number “Funky Mama.”

2. “Byrd In Flight” (1960)
Saxophonists McLean and Hank Mobley sit in on this one, which stands as a prime example of the premium hard boppers placed on strong melodies. “Ghana” is the undeniable standout track, an uptempo salute to the newly independent African nation, with a smooth, assured Mobley solo. “My Girl Shirl” and “Gate City” are my other favorites on the album.

3. “Royal Flush” (1961)
One of several outstanding albums by the Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams Quintet, which here included a very young Herbie Hancock. Hancock contributes one of the best songs on the album, “Requiem,” while other solid cuts include the offbeat “Shangri-La” and “6Ms.”

4. “Slow Drag” (1967)
The playful, bluesy title track, with vocals by drummer Billy Higgins, is probably the most memorable. “Book’s Bossa,” by bassist Walter Booker, is another highlight.

5. “Fancy Free” (1969)
This is closer to the Byrd many R&B listeners are familiar with, as heard on albums like “Black Byrd.” For me the title cut here is the best representation of the period between hard bop and early ’70s fusion. It’s lengthy enough to let everybody stretch out, and the tune has all the melody I need.

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— David B. Wilkerson

Comments (2)

  1. Tom Bemis said on 09-02-2013

    Awesome “I’ll Remember April” clip!

    • admin said on 09-02-2013

      Yeah — couldn’t believe that was out there. Footage of Byrd seems pretty rare, especially from that period.

      Thanks for reading!

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