[Review] Donald Byrd: Byrd’s Eye View (1956)

A test flight for The Jazz Messengers in transition, featuring their former and future trumpet players.

Kronomyth 3.0: Changing of the vanguard.

Byrd’s Eye View is more or less Donald Byrd’s tryout for The Jazz Messengers. Needless to say, he passed the audition. This was apparently recorded live (it does have an “open” sound but no ambient noise) and is unusual for featuring the Messengers’ then-current trumpet player, Joe Gordon, as well as Byrd. The two have similar styles, although Byrd tends toward a shadier, smokier sound. Gordon doesn’t appear on every track but, when he does, he takes the second solo.

Musically, this fits squarely in the hard bop category. A couple of new tunes from Hank Mobley and the opening Doug’s Tune (later credited to Doug Watkins) are rounded out by Tommy Dorsey’s Everything Happens to Me and El Sino, earlier recorded by Leo Parker. The set moves swiftly (except for the requisite ballad) and the Mobley tunes are much better than their quickly tossed-off titles would indicate.

The real attraction here, not surprisingly, is hearing the solos from Byrd and Gordon. The rhythm section stays mostly in the background, and none of the sax solos would make my shortlist of Mobley’s magic moments. Listening to Byrd and Gordon go at it on “El Sino” may be the album’s highlight, although it’s the opening melody of Hank’s Other Tune that stays with me when the album is over.

Neither Gordon nor Byrd stuck around very long with The Jazz Messengers, recording just one album apiece with Blakey and his band, so you may see Byrd’s Eye View as the missing piece in a trilogy of passing trumpeters. It’s an interesting view, one worth lingering over in the history of hard bop, though not quite a classic. It does feature better recording (and a better band) than Byrd Jazz, so it may afford the best view of early Byrd. It’s also an interesting extracurricular adventure for fans of Art Blakey, who leads this group in all but name.

Original elpee version

A1. Doug’s Blues (traditional) (12:09)
A2. El Sino (Harneefan-Mageed*) (10:04)
B1. Everything Happens to Me (Matt Dennis) (5:45)
B2. Hank’s Tune (Hank Mobley) (7:43)
B3. Hank’s Other Tune (Hank Mobley) (7:31)

*Harneefan Majeed, the name taken by Charles Greenlee after converting to the Muslim faith.

The Players

Donald Byrd (trumpet), Art Blakey (drums), Joe Gordon (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Horace Silver (piano), Doug Watkins (bass).

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1956 in the US (Transition, trlp J-4).

  1. Re-issued on mono elpee in Japan (Transition, trlp 4).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1989 in Japan (EMI/Blue Note, LNJ-70104).
  3. Re-packaged with Byrd’s Word, All Night Long and Byrd Blows on Beacon Hill on 4-for-1 2CD in 2014 in Europe (Avid Jazz).

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