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One Night at Byrdland

By James D. Dilts | Posted 6/12/2002

Gypsy Soul

At Paloma's, June 6


The Byrd boys from Chuckatuck, Va., did alright. "Playing with Charlie was the most beautiful job a bass player ever had--125 countries in 40 years," Joe Byrd recalls about playing in the trio named for his late brother. Charlie Byrd had a long, successful jazz- and classical-guitar career that included jamming with Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt in post-World War II Paris and recording "Jazz Samba" with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in Washington, D.C., in 1962. The hit record, on which Joe appeared, spread bossa nova across America.

"I got to hear myself in supermarkets," Joe Byrd says in an interview at the Mount Vernon club Paloma's. "Actually, Charlie's wife thought of it and asked Stan to do it. We never thought much would come of it."

Charlie Byrd died at 74 in December 1999, playing concerts almost to the end. (The other trio member was drummer and vibraphonist Chuck Redd.) The first Charlie Byrd tribute was in January 2001 at the Peabody Conservatory; Joe Byrd is a Peabody graduate, and there is now a Charlie Byrd scholarship at the school. Later that month, guitarist Frank Vignola joined Redd and Joe Byrd and the trio recorded eight tracks live at the Mainstay in Rock Hall for the recently released Gypsy Soul CD. The title comes from a song the band covers titled "The Gypsy in My Soul," and the trio has adopted it as its name (although that may change, since it seems that there is already a rock group called Gypsy Soul).

Whatever its handle, the trio playing Paloma's tonight is relatively unexposed but highly accomplished. The music meshes as smoothly as the gearbox of a Rolls Royce, although according to Vignola the group has played together only three times. Most of the first set comes straight off the CD and refers to the trio's--and to jazz's--history. Its version of Reinhardt's "Nuages" is dreamlike and evocative. "Black Orpheus" recalls the Brazil of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and "Cookin' at the Continental," a delightful but seldom heard tune by pianist and composer Horace Silver, cooks.

Redd's vibraphone solos are consistently inventive and surprising, understated but played with the verve and swing of two cohorts, Terry Gibbs and the late master Milt Jackson. Vignola, a bit more predictable as a soloist, is a dazzling technician whose lightning interludes and cadenzas display his fast fingering. (He also has a droll sense of humor.) On the concluding "Avalon," which the trio takes at a furious clip, the guitarist churned up a steam-engine-like propulsion behind Redd.

For those who missed the Paloma's show, the first set will be rebroadcast on John Tegler's Jazz Straight Ahead show on Morgan State University's WEAA (89.5 FM) June 26 at 10 p.m. It might not be Charlie Parker live with Symphony Sid from the Royal Roost in Manhattan, but for midtown Baltimore on a rainy Thursday night, it ain't bad.

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More from James D. Dilts

The Quiet Piano Man (10/9/2002)
Sizing Up the Understated Grace of Baltimore Jazz Great Ellis Larkins

The Closet Tapes (10/4/2000)
A Treasure Trove of Classic Live Recordings Revives Baltimore∆s PremierJazz

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