Sunday, May 20, 2018

Jazz Flashes Podcast: Chris Byars on His New CD, New York City Jazz

The sound of Chris Byars's band is forcibly changing due to the fact that his guitarist, Pasquale Grasso, hitherto one of the anchors of Byars's approach to jazz, has signed an exclusive recording contract of his own and is thus leaving the group. The New York-based saxophonist adheres to the motto that one shouldn't try to replace what's irreplaceable, and so he will be modifying the sound of his combo following the guitarist's departure. That's one of the many reasons why Byars's latest CD release, New York City Jazz (SteepleChase, 2018) is a must—because it captures the sound of this particular sextet for what may well be the last time.

Cut in December 2016, the album finds Byars playing alto sax and flute in the comfortable company of Grasso on guitar, John Mosca on trombone, Stefano Doglioni on bass clarinet, Ari Roland on bass, and Stefan Schatz on drums. The program is bookended by two rather obscure compositions by Gigi Gryce ("Transfiguration" and "B.G.'s Holiday") and includes a beautiful ballad by Freddie Redd ("Dawn in the City"), two names that have influenced Byars greatly. "The General's Song" is a curiosity that the saxophonist learned from Saudi Arabian musician Tarek Abdel-Hakim during the course of one of his many trips overseas as a jazz ambassador for the U.S. State Department. The rest of the tracks are all Byars originals, and they are prime examples of his talent as a composer, as well as of the variety and depth of his influences: from the slow, intimate "Bridge of Locks," a melody that borders on the tone poem, to the jumpy "Quick Turnaround" and "Hot Dog." "Chess" is another bouncy number that references Byars's son's mastery of that ages-old game, and the Midde Eastern-sounding "No Message," one of the highlights of the set, is actually inspired on ancient traditional tune from Bahrain. On the whole, this new album by Byars is a testament to the rich music of this world-traveling saxophonist, as well as to the consummate musicianship of his magnificent band, with plenty of solos from everyone involved and a great deal of excellent bowed bass from Roland. A definite winner that serious jazz fans should seek out.

We recently caught Byars at his NYC apartment right before a recording session, and we had the chance to chat with him for about an hour for a new episode of the Jazz Flashes Podcast. Throughout the conversation we addressed the album, the impending changes in his band, and the impact that this will have on the sound of the tracks for a forthcoming new CD that we are impatiently awaiting. Hoping that the episode will be of interest to Jazz Flashes readers, it's available in its entirety here below.

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