Donald Byrd & Gigi Gryce: Jazz Lab

Metronome hailed them as new stars and they were Newport Future Jazz Greats of 1957 but their creative hard-bop group was short-lived

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The year before these recordings Metronome nominated Donald Byrd and Gigi Gryce as their new stars for 1956. They then formed the Jazz Lab Quintet and in 1957 recorded six LPs leaving an impressive chronicle of what turned out to be a sadly short-lived group. The quintet also benefited from high-profile exposure that year at the Newport Jazz Festival as part of a Future Jazz Greats programme. There is therefore much to admire in what the sleeve-note says was “one of the finest groups of the late fifties”.

Some of these titles find the quintet absorbed into a nine-piece ensemble that replicates the Miles Davis Birth Of The Cool group. Gryce’s arrangements cleverly recreate those subdued harmonies but it is a pity that solo time could not be found for such stellar performers as Jimmy Cleveland, Julius Watkins and Sahib Shihab.

Horace Silver’s Speculation, a Gryce favourite, has a 16-bar sequence but Byrd and Gryce solo inventively over a 12-bar structure. The trumpeter clearly took his inspiration from Clifford Brown and Gryce reveals his acknowledged influences Benny Carter and Charlie Parker. Nica’s Tempo is one of Gigi’s most attractive originals. It is, of course, dedicated to the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who was a close friend to a number of jazz musicians, especially Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. It has a 44-bar chorus and the opening is reminiscent of Woody’n You.

Blue Concept is a blues with an interlude of Parker’s The Hymn along the way. Sans Souci, a contrafact of Out Of Nowhere, is another of Gryce’s appealing originals. What makes this vinyl reissue historically important is the debut of I Remember Clifford. It is one of Benny Golson’s most enduring compositions, benefiting here from an emotional reading by Donald Byrd.

Discography
(1) Speculation; (2) Over The Rainbow; (1) Nica’s Tempo; (2) Blue Concept; (3) Little Niles; (2) Sans Souci; (3) I Remember Clifford; (1) Smoke Signal (45.00)
Byrd (t); Gryce (as) with:
(1) Benny Powell (tb); Julius Watkins (frh); Don Butterfield (tu); Sahib Shihab (bar); Tommy Flanagan (p); Wendell Marshall (b); Art Taylor (d). NYC, 4 February 1957.
(2) as (1) omit Powell, Watkins, Butterfield, Shihab. NYC, 4 February 1957.
(3) as (1) Jimmy Cleveland (tb) replaces Powell. Wade Legge (p) replaces Flanagan. NYC, 13 March 1957.
SoundsGood 66420LP