Monday, March 31, 2008

Chris Byars at the Village Vanguard

Although technically, a Teddy Charles gig, the set I saw at the Village Vanguard Sunday night belonged to saxophonist Chris Byars.
Byars is a concise and pithy improviser and his three recordings on Smalls are stellar. It was his 2006 release Night Owls that made me take a greater interest in listening to all of my mail. With no foreknowledge of him I put it on. It just happened to be on top of the stack and I was floored by the arrangements for his octet. Meticulous and lush, the group captured the luxurious veneer of '50s jazz without sounding stuck in that period. The solos took advantage of contemporary rhythmic edges and abstractions. His next release, Photos in Black, White, and Gray offered equally stunning work for a quartet. The smaller setting allowed two of his bandmates, pianist Sasha Perry and bassist Ari Roland, a chance to shine. I haven't given his third disc, Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himilayan Art, a fair shot yet, but it's near the top of the stack.
Byars gig at the Vanguard, was constrained mostly by the presence of vibist Charles, a veteran of the jazz wars who turns 80 in April. Like many a veteran he's played with everyone and at one point Byars read a list of the luminaries with whom Charles has played.
See the problem? Byars was too enamored of his bandmate to just let loose. The set included much fine playing, particularly on Gigi Gryce's "Sans Souci" and Charles' s "Arlene," but overall the band felt like it was stuck in a gear just shy of burnin'.


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