Donald Byrd - Off To The Races

Blue Note

Original recording date: December 21st, 1958

Re-release date (RVG Edition): September 12th, 2006

Of To The Races  cover

Donald Byrd's early hard bop catalogue was sparsely represented until recent years. Much of what was available was drawn from his fusion and pop crossover outings in the 70's and 80's. Just what a strong, unique voice on trumpet he was in late fifties bebop is becoming better known with the re-release of albums such as "Of To The Races", here in a remastered edition by Rudy Van Gelder. Adding to his own trumpet there is a strong line-up of Pepper Adams (baritone sax), Jackie McLean (alto sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). In addition to the Romberg / Hammerstein standard "Lover Come Back To Me" which opens the set and Sonny Rollins' "Paul's Pal", there are four originals – "When Your Love Has Gone," "Sudwest Funk", "Off to the Races" and "Down Tempo".

"Lover Come Back To Me" is a solid enough opener; a lively hard bop re-reading of a classic ballad. But on "Sudwest Funk" the sextet sounds almost like a big band when trumpet, alto and baritone saxes belt out the main theme in unison. Then over a deep, lazy groove, there are very cool, strong solos from Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean and then Pepper Adams. Throughout the album, it is the deep, almost unexpected, sounds emerging from the baritone sax that lends real freshness to a session that is now all but fifty years old. This same chemistry works well on a standard blues such as "Down Tempo" or on the rhythmically more complex title track where there is a fine opening solo from Jackie McLean with Donald Byrd almost squeezed out of his solo by a strong deep register intervention from Pepper Adams. "When Your Love Has Gone" is taken as a tender ballad with Jackie McLean and Art Pepper rested. Donald Byrd's fine tone and expressiveness of delivery are allowed full rein, as on "Paul's Pal" which opens spaces for more fine solos from Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Pepper Adams and Wynton Kelly.

Blue Note also reissued at the same time the Donald Byrd album "Royal Flush". This has the same front line, except that Jackie McLean is absent. The rhythm section comprises Butch Warren (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums) with a young Herbie Hancock (piano) making his debut with Blue Note and contributing his first recorded composition. It benefits from the presence of Pepper Adams but is overall a less adventurous though still very much worthwhile outing.

There is more Donald Byrd / Pepper Adams material from this period in the Blue Note vaults, so it may not be long before more releases are made available.

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