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With Strings
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  • This Lone Hill Jazz issue of Donald Byrd With Strings is important for many reasons. First, though it was initially recorded for Warner Bros., it wasn't issued until 1982 on the conglomerate's Discovery label and quickly went out of print. Secondly, it was pianist and arranger Clare Fischer's first recording in three years -- and his first as sole arranger for a session. The rest of the band includes Milt Hinton on bass, Julius Baker on flute, drummer Osie Johnson, and Romeo Penque on bass clarinet. Fischer added Gene Orloff and Harry Lookofsky as primary violinists and a full string and horn section behind them! One needn't worry about over-production but the music is utterly beautiful and moving. Mostly a collection of standard ballads, included are a pair of stellar originals by Fischer: "Lazy Afternoon" and "September Afternoon." Byrd's own playing is what's so remarkable here. Far away from the tight, clipped style he perfected with Blue Note, or the hard, aggressive punchiness of his hard bop sound, the tone here is his, but his phrasing is wide open, languid, it's almost ethereal. In addition to this gorgeous session -- akin in its own right to Ben Webster's and Charlie Parker's records with strings -- there is a quartet session included from 1956, recorded in New York. What makes it remarkable, though the music is completely different from the strings gig, is that it was the only time Byrd led an actual quartet during the era. His personnel included bassist Doug Watkins, drummer Jimmy Zitano, and pianist Ray Santisi. A little over 30 minutes, it too is a ballads set, but moves along at a midtempo pace, with Byrd playing long, lyric lines in both the heads and solos, using yet another kind of phrasing. It's not revelatory or anything, but it does have a relaxed open feel making this disc a must for any serious Byrd-heads. [This release contains the small-group date Byrd Blows on Beacon Hill as a bonus.] ~ Thom Jurek
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