Chris Byars, Lucky Strikes Again (Steeplechase). This album by a gifted saxophonist, composer and arranger has several things to recommend it.
It presents 10 pieces written and arranged by Lucky Thompson (1924-2005), a saxophonist whose brilliance and originality as a player and writer failed to make him as well known as equally gifted contemporaries like Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Milt Jackson. Byars painstakingly transcribed most of the arrangements from recordings of a 1961 Thompson concert broadcast in Germany. Others, he arranged based on Thompson quartet records. Pieces like Old Reliable," Could I Meet You Later?" Another Whirl" and other discoveries are substantial additions to known compositions by Thompson.
Byars' arrangements for an octet cast the tunes in the not-small, not-big format that offers tonal colors impossible in a quartet or quintet, with flexibility and subtlety difficult to achieve with the weight of a standard 15- or 16-piece big band. His sidemen include some of New York's finest club and studio jazz musicians. Among them are trumpeter Scott Wendholt, alto saxophonist Zaid Nasser and trombonist John Mosca. Byars' own playing evidences affection for Thompson's, without indulgence in slavish imitation. His treatment of Just One More Chance," a major Thompson recording, is impressive.
The music reflects lessons Thompson learned from his contemporary Tadd Dameron, an arranger whose work was a pervasive influence in jazz from the late forties to the mid-sixties and has never lost its freshness. As Mark Gardner points out in his interesting album notes, Dameron's example helped form Quincy Jones, Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson and Oscar Pettiford. With this work, Byars can claim a place in that line. He deserves credit for reminding listeners, by way of this stimulating collection, of Lucky Thompson's importance.
Shortly after Thompson's death six years ago, Rifftides posted a summary of Thompson's career and a guide to some of his recordings. To see it, click here.