|Byard Lancaster (1942, Philadelphia, PA) has had quite a career. His initial public recognition came from his 1966/67 recordings with Sunny Murray (ESP Disc), Marzelle Watts (ESP Disc), the fabled Bill Dixon Intents and Purposes (RCA), and his first leadership session on Vortex, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. In 1968 he recorded with Larry Young (Blue Note) and on the remarkably overlooked Presenting Burton Greene date for Columbia. Stints with Sun Ra, McCoy Tyner, Shannon Jackson, Errol Parker, and Khan Jamal, as well as a host of other independent and searching creative artists followed. A self-confessed and life-long Philadelphia-phile, he has also immersed himself in other locales: Europe, Chicago, and Jamaica, and explored a wide range of musical genres including Blues, Funk, World, and even Punk music. While much of this may have diluted his"Jazz" discography, it surprisingly does not seem to have diluted or compromised his ability as a dynamic creative improvising artist. I've known Byard since the late ‘70s and he's a hard man to pigeonhole. He is a man of seeming contradiction; he embraces diversity yet is a Philadelphia chauvinist at heart even though his feet are often settled in other locales. He always has what I'd characterize as pipe dreams for conquering the ingrained maladies endemic to the Jazz business. Yet in a 1980 interview for Cadence Magazine he told me, "I was given many contracts and opportunities to be famous and to exist in the system and I ignored it to return home to develop my community... ." I think he honorably considers himself as a Jazzman and yet, in the same interview he told me, "I don't particularly like the mentality of Jazz musicians and I also don't like the workinghabits." His discography generally might be considered overall Avant yet he thinks the Avant-garde "is old fashioned." Byard is very determined, accomplished, and opinionated and yet, after having produced him a number of times, I've always found him to be cooperative and open to any fresh,even counter, opinion. Byard and I often do not see eye to eye on his choices, but he always knows why he's involved in a project. Perhaps that is why he has maintained a solid following in Jazz; while he shows a broad musical interest he respects the "jazz genre" and is uncompromised in hisapproach. There's a difference between artistic eclecticism and artistic compromise.
In assembling this group, unusual in its double double bass pairing, Byard has brought together Ed Crockett (1947, Philadelphia, PA)—a regular associate and a participant on Byard's powerhouse CIMP recordingwith Odean Pope and J.R. Mitchell, Philadelphia Spirit in New York—and a fresh name, Bert Harris (1952, Abington, PA). Bert began working with Byard in the mid ‘90s, formally with the group Philly Gumbo (not to be confused with John Swana's group). His World music background fits well with Byard's pan-musical approach. On percussion is Harold E. Smith (1945, Pittsburgh, PA) (not to be confused with Harold Smith, the European drummer), who first recorded with Byard in 1977 and is best known to me as the drummer on Joe McPhee's third release (CJR #3) from 1971.
The group arrived witha flourish mid afternoon and quickly focused on setting up instruments, getting positioned, and doing sound checks. Actually it was a couple of hours early by Byard's schedule as before this date he sent me an itinerary, from which I excerpt: "Arrive at 4:41 p.m....dinner at 5:40... studio 7:56... complete first session 11:43... morning meal 8:01 a.m.... session 9:45 a.m...." and so forth. ... Vintage Byard.
We actually began at 8:25 with the hand drum opening on Pam Africa (of the Philadelphia African family), an infectious Byard ditty with some very hip African flute work and some effective conch coloring at the end.
Next Byard called for Softly As In a Morning Sunrise, took his alto, said it's a trio piece, and left, but not without preparatory instructions. Bass pleasures.
With but one break the group played into the morning hours, accumulating a number of highlights including Byard's tour de force on Mr. P.C. The energy built to a tremendous momentum, with Byard utilizing all his sax's P.C. dissolves in a naima-mist of rolling percussion, bowed and plucked basses. Earlier in the evening Byard made a gutsy choice to play I'm an Old Cowhand, who's classic interpretation by Sonny Rollins in 1957 remains the standard against all comers. Byard's interpretation shares little with Sonny's except for a few sly references in his choruses and the obvious quote at the end. Byard ended the evening with Justified Sacrifice, reflecting the inner voice of a man who has obviously played for and by himself many times. It is a rather haunting reverie.
Most people went to bed though I last saw Harold around 1:30 a.m., headed outside with his didjeridoo to play in the dark amongst the stars.
The members of the group began getting up on their own around 6 a.m., playing instruments, talking, working on music and eventually all gathering to eat breakfast. In reviewing the previous night's work, it became evident that we had a lot of material. Byard still had a number of ideas and concepts he had worked out and wanted to execute. If successful, I knew this would necessitate having to eliminate things I'd like to use so we agreed if there was enough material at the end of the second day to justify a second CD we would issue one.
They opened with what I'd consider a masterpiece of improvised music, utilizing genres from a world's music. On Ancestral Link Hotel, Byard opens vocally and from there comes an organized excursion of some 21 extraordinary minutes. The group created a riveting mood as it produced statements and tension that absolutely energized the space, and, to my great satisfaction, sustained interest from start to finish. I remind the listener this is not a pasted-together performance and we could sense the success of this outing—if not from the music's own joy, then by the reoccuring smiles on Bert's and Ed's faces, the look on Harold's face that clearly showed he was in his element, and the occasional dancing of Byard's feet. We've had some very special transcendent moments in the first ten years of CIMP. This was one of them. As is almost always the case, this moment was followed by the exhilarated laughter inspired by the artistry of the moment; quite an endorphin rush.
The good spirits were definitely in the air as Holy Buddy immediately followed Ancestral Link Hotel followed by Slow Blues (Byard employing a bit of conduction as he orchestrated the rhythm) which was followed by a blistering Milestones, then Killer Joe and Searching in quick succession. We then ended the set, the CD, and theday as we did the night before: with solo Byard, this time in tribute to ... You Decide.
Good evening. Good morning. Good music!