Jaki Byard - The Jaki Byard Experience

Jaki Byard The Jaki Byard Experience (Prestige 1969)

The Jaki Byard Experience is not for the faint-hearted.

Jaki Byard - The Jaki Byard Experience


Jaki Byard (piano), Roland Kirk (tenor saxophone, clarinet, manzello), Richard Davis (bass), Alan Dawson (drums)


on September 17, 1968 at Rudy van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as PR 7615 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
Parisian Thoroughfare
Hazy Eve
Shine On Me
Side B:
Memories Of You
Teach Me Tonight

No doubt, those that long for the continuous flow of the sounds of surprise go to Jaki Byard and Roland Kirk. In particular The Jaki Byard Experience, which most likely brings about shock, curiosity, delight and finally surrender. Two distinctly unconventional individuals for the price of one. The quartet of Byard’s eleventh album on Prestige is completed by bassist Richard Davis and drummer Alan Dawson, a sublime duo that bonded with Byard for the first time in 1963 and whose instincts are cooperative instead of merely supportive.

Although active in the Boston area since the late 40s, Byard made his mark in New York with Charles Mingus in the early 60’s, dazzling listeners and audiences with his eclectic style. Kirk burst on the same scene around that time; blind one-man-band playing tenor sax and exotic saxes that he found in shops like the stritch and manzello, adding whistles that hung on his chest, shoulder, hip or even ear, appearing to be a sideshow attraction to the general audience, a musician with exceptional declarations of independence to cogniscenti and colleagues.

Both shared the gift of mining the multi-faceted tradition and simultaneously pushing it to its outer limits, both were unique personalities that refused to take indiscriminately the innovations of Ornette Coleman, playing a kind of hide and seek with avant-garde instead of merely engaging in ersatz Free Jazz. Byard’s encyclopedic knowledge of early jazz forms is legendary. Kirk, who also landed a place in Charles Mingus’s band in the early 60’s, mixed blues with modernity and unusual virtuosity. Their music is a world unto its own. And it brims with enthusiasm. Like Thelonious Monk’s music.

An improviser should work with the fixed material in a piece to avoid hackneyed phrases.

That’s Monk, the Buddha of jazz, occasionally breaking silence with conceptions that are at once practical and enigmatic. Paradoxically, what seems to be a knockdown argument led him down the path of “rooted freedom” as opposed to freedom for freedom’s sake. Freedom for freedom’s sake is a dead end street. Free love is ok but mostly equates with detachement. The opportunities inherent to mass consumption suck: fast food and sugar are killers. Both conceptions ultimately exhaust themselves in the need to preserve meaning. The equilibrium of passion and reason cannot blossom in the absence of transcendence. Monk may have been a puzzling personality but he most likely had rooted freedom on his mind while teaching beautiful and original alternate chords to friends and journeymen, and writing Trinkle Tinkle and Criss Cross.

And Byard and Kirk understood. As a result, one gets served a dish of delicious music that while worked out within the textures of harmony and melody, sends mysterious scents out the backyard into the alley and teases the palate with an abundance of spicy flavors; implicit loyalty to unpredictability and deeds of gutsy passion that keeps any negative sensation of self-consciousness out the door.

One gets a rebellious version of Bud Powell’s Parisian Thoroughfare, which is introduced by a turbulent intro in the root key, segues crisply into the theme and is developed with the thunderous blasts of Kirk’s solo’s on, respectively, manzello and tenor saxophone. Manzello Kirk is a scudding jaguar. Tenor Kirk is the leader of the buffalo tribe, deceptively light on his feet and howling with fatherly authority. On both instruments, Kirk’s sense of old-fashioned swing is palpable and his timing is angular and agile throughout his long story, which ends with a roar on simultaneously played horns.

Byard throws himself into battle with hammering bass notes, shrewd combinations of distorted chords, endless staccato bop motives and a climax of tart Earl Hines-ish embellishments. His rubato interaction with Alan Dawson’s snare rolls is one of the examples of the quartet’s sublime and lively interaction. As is the high energy of bassist Richard Davis. Davis has his share of storytelling, mixing strong arco bass with mischievous dissonance and bended notes on multiple strings. This is jazz that rivals the archetypical rock bands of the late 60’s. Mind you, on acoustic instruments!

It makes sense that Byard included a composition of Monk, himself a master of dedication. Evidence is the session’s second example of controlled mayhem. Perhaps the curious balancing act of Kirk, a rollercoaster ride of phrases that are wrenched from his gut and purposefully evade the changes, may be hard to digest. Regardless, it is a rare feat. Kirk apparently only takes a breath twice. Cat with the lungs of a whale.

One gets the hefty boogaloo treatment of the traditional Shine On Me, romantic and sardonic piano-bass duet of Hazy Eve, twisted Fats Waller homage of Memories Of You. Coasting is absent in Byard’s case. He’s the guy that wears haute couture on top and shorts beneath, strollin’ on the snow-bound path. Kirk’s the man on the barstool whom everyone tells his stories too. And he’ll remark: “Never end your sentences on a vowel.” They are the proud underdog. One wonders if Byard’s recorded vocal that precedes the opening of Parisian Thoroughfare and the record – “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud” – is pride or pastiche.

Definitely the things they’re saying so loud are of the utmost excitement and authority.

Booker Ervin - The Freedom Book

Booker Ervin The Freedom Book (Prestige 1964)

The Freedom Book is one of Booker Ervin’s finest recordings. The grossly underappreciated tenor saxophonist displays all his strong points: a strongly individual, emotional style that communicates directly to the listener, long flowingly coherent lines and last but not least, that forceful, throat-grabbing, wailing sound.

Booker Ervin - The Freedom Book


Booker Ervin (tenor saxophone), Jaki Byard (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Alan Dawson (drums)


on December 3, 1963 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as PRLP 7295 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
A Lunar Tune
Cry Me Not
Grant’s Stand
Side B:
A Day To Mourn
Al’s In

Ervin is best known for his long association (1959-64) with Charles Mingus, appearing on landmark albums as Mingus Ah Um, Mingus Dynasty and Blues & Roots. He also made lasting contributions to albums by Don Patterson (Hip Cake Walk, The Exciting New Organ Of Don Patterson), Roy Haynes (Cracklin’) and Mal Waldron (The Quest), among others. From 1964 till 1966, and again in 1968, Ervin worked in Europe. He also performed in Nigeria in 1960 with friend and pianist Randy Weston. While Weston gained quite a lot of recognition with his ‘world musical’ jazz approach, Ervin never really got a foothold in Europe and returned to the US in 1968.

Geeky info: Downbeat Magazine ran a eulogy of Booker Ervin in their issue of October 15, 1970. Coincidentally, at the bottom of the page is a tiny news report on the fact that Randy Weston opened a jazz club in Tangiers, Morocco. By 1970, Booker Ervin had lived for nearly three years in Randy Weston’s apartment in NYC. Ervin died of kidney disease on August 31, 1970.

The “Book” series released by Prestige (Ervin was nicknamed “Book”) constitute some of Ervin’s best recorded output. The Freedom Book is the first album in a row that includes The Song Book, The Blues Book and The Space Book. The hi-voltage energy of The Freedom Book is particularly apparent in A Lunar Tune. The quirky blues melody puts you on the edge of your seat. Subsequently, the charged work of the fabulous rhythm section and furiously wailing, coherent phrases of Ervin are sure to leave you breathless, almost to the point of suffocating! It’s a stellar performance. Jaki Byard, a longtime member of the Mingus group as well, demonstrates his idiosyncratic, masterful blend of bop and tradition to full effect.

Two tunes suggest that Booker Ervin digested more than a dose of classic swing. He blows a tough ballad, Randy Weston’s Cry Me Not, displaying the assertiveness and big sound of Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. At the same time, Ervin’s fluent lines reveal the influence of Dexter Gordon. Both Ervin and Gordon are seldom, if ever, short on ideas and their harmonic sense is keen. Grant’s Stand comes across as a swing tune for the new age, wherein Ervin sounds like a hybrid of Illinois Jacquet and John Coltrane. All the while, Booker Ervin’s indomitable wail reminds us who we are dealing with.

A Day To Mourn – that presumably deals about the emotions following the JFK assassination on November 22, 1963 – is a moody piece with a vivid middle section. Drummer Alan Dawson’s Al’s In veers from a slow Eastern-flavoured intro into a fast part that is an example of the energetic, responsive interplay of the group.

Arguably, Ervin never got the popular recognition that was his due because his hybrid style didn’t fit in the neat, small-minded categorizations both critics and audiences often firmly held unto in the sixties. Booker Ervin may not have been as advanced as Coltrane or Sonny Rollins, nor as influential as Dexter Gordon. But he surely belongs to the top rank of his tenor sax generation. Ample evidence abound. The Freedom Book is just one piece of it.