Tommy Flanagan / Jaki Byard: The Magic of 2 (2013)
One of San Francisco's most famous jazz venues, Keystone Korner, closed in 1983. It was a favorite venue of the top jazz players of the day, and several landmark live albums by pianists Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner, and saxophonists Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Stan Getz, resulted from shows taped inside its hallowed hall.
Flanagan, the more traditionally straight-ahead of the two, played on dozens of enduring albums, including saxophonist John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960), tenor sax titan Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus (Prestige, 1956), and alto sax man Art Pepper's Straight Life (Galaxy, 1980), as well as Wes Montgomery's The Incredible Guitar of Wes Montgomery (Riverside Records, 1960). Byard was a more exploratory player, with stints in the bands belonging to iconoclastic bassist Charles Mingus, the always out there reed/woodwind multi- instrumetalist Eric Dolphy, and saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
With their disparate histories and styles, this could seem like an unlikely and potentially ill-fitting pairing of talents. What holds it togetherand indeed what makes for an exciting and truly inspired setis their depth of knowledge of the jazz piano tradition, from ragtime and stride to bebop and swing, together with an unmistakable zest and joy for performing together before a live audience.
The duo opens with "Scrapple From the Apple," from the pen of alto saxophonist/bebop pioneer Charlie Parker, an ebullient seven-minute history lesson in jazz piano, swaggering through early twentieth century New York swing to the bawdy night life sparkle of New Orleans, making for a joyous jumble of its familiar melody. Byard and Flanagan trade solos on Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things," opening the tune with a measured and melancholy mood that, three minutes in, shifts into a higher, lighter-stepping gearbright and buoyant, sassy.
Flanagan and Byard also take their turns going it solo. Flanagan sticks with tunes from the pen of Duke Ellington's partner in music, Billy Strayhorn: "Something to Live For," pensive and elegant in Flanagan's hands; a bright, strutting take on "All Day Long"; and the often-covered "Chelsea Bridge,'' here with a dark and wistful edge. Byard leans in a more modern direction, covering Stevie Wonder's lovely "Send OneYour Love," and serving up a rumbling, percussive take on flugelhornist Chuck Mangione's "Land of Make Believe."
The duo closes on a rollicking roll with trumpeter Miles Davis' "The Theme," shooting crisp notes out of lush cascades flowing over a dense rhythmtwo piano giants at the top of their game, having the time of their lives.
Track Listing: Introduction; Scrapple From the Apple; Just One of Those Things; Satin Doll; Something to Live For; Send One Your Love; Our Delight; All Day Long; Sunday; Chelsea Bridge; Land of Make Believe; the theme.
Personnel: Tommy Flanagan: piano; Jaki Byard: piano.