Saturday, October 13, 2007

listening notes: booker ervin, the freedom book

It's unbelievable that Jaki Byard's 1999 murder, in his own home, remains unsolved.

Peter Watrous described him as "one of jazz's great surrealists, a comic who hasn't a moment's fear of disturbing the sanity of the performance." And, in his obituary, said "In his playing he spanned the history of jazz, and his improvisations, filled with quick stylistic changes, moved from boogie-woogie to free jazz. He was a stylistic virtuoso, his fecund imagination saw comparisons and contrasts everywhere, and his improvisations were encyclopedic and profound. He also had a sense of humor that rippled through everything he played."

That is the standard view of Byard, casually flipping through an encyclopedia, pointing out the funny bits. I actually kind of dislike this aspect of his playing. Not because it is un-serious, but because it obscures the awesomeness of what I see as his "straight" playing. I wouldn't say that that is when he sounds most like himself, but when I am least reminded of anything else.

On The Freedom Book's opening track, "A Lunar Tune," after Ervin's Texas tenor has ridden the rhythm section's intense swing (Alan Dawson, another underrated player, changes up his accompaniment so fast and so fluently it's impossible to keep track), Byard effortlessly straddles an inside-outside line that had only recently been created. There are no overt references to stride or anything else. Instead, Byard starts with a jovially ringing melody, then turns up the heat by alternating slightly blurry fast lines and crisp left-hand punctuation: a free sensibility is injected into a strict respect for the song's form.

Has any piano trio recorded jazz more modern than what Byard, Richard Davis and Alan Dawson produced on December 3, 1963? (A thought, both depressing and thrilling, often formed when listening to the masters, from any era)