Selection 1: I’m so excited by You
Selection 2: On The Trail
Donald Byrd (trumpet) Sonny Red (alto sax) Hank Mobley (tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Walter Booker (bass) Freddie Waits (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 24, 1966
Artist of Note: Sylvester “Sonny Red” Kyner featured on four of Byrd’s albums that year, and enjoyed leader status on a number of earlier titles for Jazzland (The Mode, and Breezin’) and one Blue Note (4032 Out of the Blue). Despite this promising start, his career did not endure beyond the ’60s when jazz went into retreat. It was probably not the best career move to nickname yourself “Sonny” at the time of Rollins, Stitt, Criss and Delight.
One of Sonny Red’s first outings (then spelt Sonny Redd, not Red) was Jazz…Its Magic, a recording with Curtis Fuller for the Savoy Regent label (1958), which featured this slightly bizarre girlie cover, the first half-burqua/ half bikini to make it to an album sleeve. Maybe she was just hanging out a bedsheet on the washing line, in her bikini, when a sudden gust of wind ensnared in the sheet. but where does “magic” comes into it – red carpet tiles on the wall? Even Sonny Redd’s name is printed not in red, sympatico, but in green. Holy Reid Miles, it’s not design magic, it’s… design car-crash!
No doubt someone owns it and loves it! Own up! Competition for more plausible explanation of the model’s predicament, please.
Sonny Red disappeared into obscurity in the 70’s, and reportedly died in 1981. His only Blue Note title “Out Of The Blue” however seems very sought after today, too late to benefit him. I had bid realistically on it many times, only to see it spirited away at fancy prices: Hot!… Rare!… Deep Groove!… (heart sinks). Top auction price nearly $2,000.
(Dr) Bob Sunenblick’s great but little-known fan-label Uptown Records also offers a taste of Sonny Red on this fascinating album, Blue Mitchell and Sonny Red, Baltimore 1966, sadly issued only on CD. Much of Uptown’s early ’80s vinyl catalogue was recorded at Englewood Cliffs and mastered by Van Gelder, and are seriously undervalued. But I digress, too many runners in this race. Get back to the featured nag, Mustang.
The star attractions riding on Byrd’s “Mustang!” are Hank Mobley and McCoy Tyner, which doesn’t get any better as a line up. Mobley yo! The CD reissue included two bonus tracks recorded in 1964 with Jimmy Heath on tenor.
Donald Byrd’s tone and timbre is vibrant and exciting, in competition with Freddie Hubbard. Lee Morgan probably surpassed both in his attack, but was soon no longer in competition, due to his girlfriend’s precise aim with a handgun. I’m happy with all three, and of course there’s always, Miles, and Woody. Not to forget Kenny Dorham. And… Booker Little, Clifford Brown… do trumpeters have shorter lives than other instrument players?
I’m always amazed how much music you can get out of a short length of tube and three valves. I sat next to someone at a dinner party recently who turned out to be a trumpet player. It is not often a good idea to ask a musician how they play their instrument. I asked him innocently how such an apparently simple instrument could play such complex lines. He explained it at length, and by the time he was all done it, must have been the dessert course, I confess I had lost interest in the answer. Embouchure, flutter-tonguing, triple tonguing, glissando, valve tremolo, I decided knowing how the trumpet was played didn’t add anything to my appreciation of its’ playing. And a beautiful instrument it is, for reasons I won’t go into for lack of space.
One of Byrd’s great strengths is his appreciation of the contribution of a complex brass front line. The scoring of his trumpet with Red’s energetic alto and Mobley’s nasal tenor creates great texture and solo variety. Being a commercial necessity 1966, you accept everyone treading water a little on the title track, Byrd’s attempt to achieve a hit on the level of Morgan’s “The Sidewinder.” The rest of the album is fine mainstream bop, and McCoy Tyner adds terrific propulsion to what might otherwise be anodyne comping. A musical richness lies beneath the toothy pop-chick cover, perhaps like that under the half-draped model of Sonny Red’s first outing. It’s magic, musically, anyway.
Vinyl: Division of Liberty BST 84238 VAN GELDER mixed NY/Liberty labels
Copies are in circulation with and without Van Gelder mastering, and possibly with a different combination of labels. I paid a premium for a Van Gelder copy, which believe is always worth it.
The interesting identifier of early Liberty provenance is the label printing. Early Liberty, which is good, look for the perfectly formed ® below E, a characteristic of Blue Notes original print supplier, Keystone (and pressing by All-Disc). Later Liberty, under Transamerica ownership, things began to drift, not in a good way.
Several stereo label variations of “Mustang!” are on offer: Blue Note NY, Division of Liberty (both are Liberty pressings), and the West Coast Liberty/UA black and turquoise.
However the really desirable edition is, of course, the NY mono, which is somewhat rare, possibly pressed only for radio station promo. Something similar thing happened with Impulse releases around this time: the commercial release was stereo, and the very few mono editions that exist seem to be mostly review copies destined for radio stations.
Liberty promo covers – another digression – is mono “Mustang!” a one horse race?
Ebay seller: “Promotional Pressure (Embossment) Stamp On The Cover Clearly Identifies The Item As Promotional · Very Early Pressing Circa 1966/67 On White And Blue Blue Note Label With A Division Of Liberty Records Inscription On The Label Rare Mono Pressing, Many Times Rarer Than Stereo”
“The PROMOTIONAL, RADIO STATION-, AUDITION OR DEMONSTRATION COPIES AND RELEASES (above) were often distributed to radio stations before the record was released to the public, sometimes as much as four months ahead. These records are generally considered to be the “first among equals”, which is to say the VERY FIRST generation and the VERY FIRST pressings of the particular title; a PROTOTYPE and the earliest known official pressing of the record.
Without re-opening the argument about later promos, or the use of misplaced use of CAPITALS, back to the record in hand.
This record spent several years on my “no, I don’t want this album” list, on account of Byrd heading towards his electric funky period, which is not for me. The cover – kooky mod chick in op-art dress – led me to gloss over it. I already got The Sidewinder. A chance encounter with a Van Gelder copy in an East London store had me look more closely at the line up, for the first time. Mobley! Tyner! Red! In a word, Igottahavit. The Byrd had finally landed.
Despite several digressions, “Mustang!” crosses the finishing line, and we have reached our final destination. Thank you for riding LJC, your no-cost jazz courier.
UPDATE October 14, 2016
Resourceful LJC reader Tim has sourced the liner notes to Jazz, It’s Magic. Apparently, it has been scientifically proven that listening to jazz has significant health benefits! We all knew this of course, but it’s good to see it proven by “science”.