Donald Byrd “Free Form” (1961)

Selected track: Donald Byrd “French Spice” >


Donald Byrd (tp) Wayne Shorter (ts) Herbie Hancock (p) Butch Warren (b) Billy Higgins (d) Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, December 11, 1961


With the confidence of a half-dozen Blue Notes under his belt, Byrd takes the opportunity to point his music compass in a variety of different directions, blending occasional gospel references with a more modal approaches, encouraging new musical ingredients like Hancock and Shorter to keep the music fresh and less predictable. Gone are the dominant tunes of Fuego, and Byrd in Hand, the  comforting familiarity of “standards”, and forward towards a broader more rhythmic sensibility.

The music is spiced up by the presence of Herbie Hancock on piano, which lends it a more percussive accent, away from the romantic sweep of  Duke Pearson or straight-ahead comping of Walter Davis Jr. Wayne Shorter’s tenor also adds a more astringent tone, with his characteristic short stacatto phrasing, foreshadowing the long Hancock/ Shorter musical partnership.

Well that’s how I read it! Few signs here of the funk and fusion that overtook Byrd in the Seventies. Good music here, heading towards a more “free form”

Vinyl: Blue Note BLP 4118 mono, NY, VAN GELDER, no ear

“Original first pressing on Blue Note NY labels” with VAN GELDER stamp however an anomaly, as 4118 lacks the all important Plastylite “ear” mark in the run-out, indicating the release was possibly out of catalogue number sequence at a later date. Expert opinion suggests the record, recorded at the end of 1961, was released in 1962, however the missing ear usually indicates a Liberty pressing after 1966. An inexpensive Blue Note as a result, lacking the sparkle of a  Plastylite pressing, the only copies with significant value are those described as “Mint”, “sealed” within their shrink-wrap, or the seller has used the “rare” word, which causes collectors to start foaming at the mouth and dementedly throw large sums of money at each other.

14 thoughts on “Donald Byrd “Free Form” (1961)

  1. let’s close this matter: thanks to Matty, the digital sound quality is good, though not perfect, but it’s ok: so the copy in my possession is definitely worn out by a killer stylus.
    I can imagine the disappointment of a buyer who, receiving the record that could be visually described as EX, could’t enjoy the sound in any way.
    I would point that I’m not disturbed by (small) scratches that much: our kids are old, sometimes older than us, they are delicate material, so they can perform some defects.
    two of these I really can’t stand: skips and degraded audio quality.
    I’m not sayjn’ I love clicks ‘n’ pops, but I don’t claim my old records should be all as new.
    simply I replace, when I find, my copy with a better one.

  2. the piano solo, at the end of the track is distorted: the record looks very well cared for, no scratches, a few spindle marks: I’m afraid it has been listened in the past with a worn stylus.
    please help ’cause it’s a record I love, but it doesn’t seem a RVG recording.

    • I’ll be better able to comment when my copy with ear arrives in a couple of days. I have always wanted a proper Plastylite press of this, and thanks to ebay tonight and my lucky rabbits foot ( though it wasn’t especially lucky for the rabbit) I’ve bagged one at last, at a sensible price.

  3. please listen to side A, track 3: Music forever.
    after a brief piano intro, the theme begins: on my original the sound of cymbals and drums is terrible, hissing and distorted.
    i’ve no digital support for this record and I’d like to know from you.

  4. That’s a difficult one, Dottore… I’ll check my CD copy of The Connection and see, well hear actually, if I think that there’s something up with the audio quality that I’d consider different than from what we’re used to, RVG wise.

  5. My copy of 4027 is a “sheep in wolf’s clothing” It is a first wave Liberty reissue – no ear, but dressed in old stock 47 West 63rd St labels (with inc and r), Stereo, and an original 1960 Blue Note old stock cover.
    4027- Freddie Redd Quartet "The Connection" (1960) l
    So I can’t say what the original pressing sounds like, but this Liberty sounds pretty good, though not up to what I would expect of a real Plastylite Blue Note.

  6. I have a van Gelder question: most of his recordings, with 50’s or 60’s equipment are really well cared for.
    I’ve had one of his, in different times, mono only, that has a rough sound, really not pleasant.
    It’s a studio recording, so without live problems.
    now I have the fourth of fifth copy in my hands and the sound is not up to Rvg.
    I would like to know if you have had the same impression, acoustically only, and if you have any support, mono/stereo, first/second, vinyl/cd and how it sounds.
    the record is: music from the connection, BN 4027.

  7. You’re right, just got home and checked Fred Cohen’s book. And besides 4118, the same goes for 4171, 4196, 4206, 4217, 4218, 4219 and 4222. So indeed: released after Liberty became the new owner 😉

  8. This is obviously a fake and should be sent to me immediately for termination. Dam. How good were Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter? Lately the same names just keep cropping up: Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Antony Williams, etc. etc. etc. They play on each others records, they move the seats around. But the music is always stellar. What a great record label Blue Note was to get its artists interacting in this way.

  9. But but but wait: in Fred Cohen’s book and also in Dottore’s Blue Note Illustrated, the BLP4118 1st pressing indeed is mentioned as a no ear in the trail off. In fact the description reads: address is New York USA, no deep groove, Van Gelder stamped and no ear. Was 4118 released after Liberty bought Blue Note? Anyway, if the first pressing is described as no ear, then this means that copies with an ear do not exist, so you have 1st pressing in hands, no matter how you look at it. Maybe the phone rang while Plastylite’s ‘stamper maker’ was about to engrave the P or ‘ear’ in the trail off and simply forgot about it? After all, the catalogue numbers after 4118 do carry the ear all the way up to the Liberty transition.

    • I’m convinced it remained unreleased until after 1966, when its first pressing was made by Liberty. In 1961 Byrd had at least three albums in the can. We know Alfred Lion was cautious to not saturate the market with too many releases by the same artist at the same time (unless your name was Jimmy Smith). It makes sense this was held back. I don’t buy the Plastylite amnesia hypothesis. It’s VAN GELDERed after all.

      • Something had been nagging at the back of my mind about this record. I was convinced it couldn’t have been released as late as 1966, because it is talked about in such a knowledgeable way in the notes to A New Perspective, and the sleeve and labels are older, so if it was made as a Liberty Blue Note first press, there would be no sleeves or labels to use up.
        Despite the nagging I didn’t actually pull down my copy of the record until now, when I saw two tell tale signs. The first that is stamped ‘Audition Record’ in red on the back of the sleeve, and inside the inner sleeve dates it to 1966 – the record was sealed so I’d presume it is the original sleeve.
        All this suggests to me that the record was released in 1966 right on the cusp of the changeover between Blue Note and Liberty (printed parts would have taken longer to produce than the vinyl), so that whilst the vinyl is a Liberty pressing the rest of the package is a ‘pure’ Blue Note.

  10. I like this cd and it seems that Byrd was influenced a little from Miles Modal recordings (2nd quintet) and from Hancock in his team here. it sounds great .

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