Sunshine of My Soul
01. Sunshine 9:33
02. Cast Away 4:08
03. Chandra 8:06
04. St. Louis Blues 6:03
05. Diane's Melody 6:58
06. Trendsition Zildjian 10:58
Bass – David Izenzon
Drums, Timpani – Elvin Jones
Piano – Jaki Byard
Recorded in New York City; October 31, 1967
In 1967, Jaki Byard turned 45. At that age, some musicians are very set in their ways -- they have a niche, cater to it, and stick with whatever it is they do best. But Byard wasn't becoming complacent; the restless pianist was continuing to experiment and take chances, which is exactly what he does on Sunshine of My Soul. Recorded on Halloween 1967, this unpredictable post-bop/avant-garde effort finds Byard being influenced by a wide variety of pianists. One minute, his lyricism is acknowledging Erroll Garner and Dave Brubeck -- the next minute, he takes it outside and shows his appreciation of Cecil Taylor's free jazz. McCoy Tyner is an influence on original pieces like "Sunshine" and "Cast Away," while W.C. Handy's often-recorded "St. Louis Blues" (the only tune on the album that Byard didn't write) becomes an unlikely mixture of free jazz and stride -- sort of Taylor by way of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Taylor's influence is especially strong on the very stream-of-consciousness "Trendsition Zildjian," which is among the most abstract pieces that Byard has recorded. And whoever might be influencing Byard at a particular moment -- Taylor, Brubeck, Tyner, Garner, Bud Powell, or someone else -- the Bostonian always sounds like himself. Of course, a musician who is that broad-minded and eclectic needs musicians who are capable of keeping up with him and, thankfully, Byard has that in drummer Elvin Jones and bassist David Izenzon (known for his work with Ornette Coleman in the 1960s). Neither of them have a problem keeping up with Byard on this superb Prestige date, which Fantasy reissued on CD in 2001 under its Original Jazz Classics imprint.
Jaki Byard is one of only a few jazz musicians who can play comfortably in virtually any style. This has made him a valuable sideman for players as diverse as Maynard Ferguson and Charles Mingus, but has rendered his work as a leader as a tad all over the map, lacking any guiding force to tie the disparate elements together. Lacking a sense of focus, his solo work seems like a man trying to fit all his clothes into a carry-on bag. Occasionally though, Byard is able to make everything work throughout an entire album and the results are always amazing; he can pack more into one song than many of his peers can accomplish in an entire session. This is best shown on Sunshine of My Soul, which easily ranks as among the pianist’s best work.
This is largely due to the crack rhythm section of Izenzon and Jones, who can follow Byard on any path he might choose to wander without getting in a tangle. Izenzon, in one of his few recorded performances in a brief career, displays a knack for fidgety bass lines and smooth bowed passages, sharing with Jones a skill at avoiding the obvious and a penchant for avoiding the beat. Both have the devilish task of following Byard’s piano adventures, which range from free jazz excursions like “Trendsition Zildjian” to a fractured reworking of “St. Louis Blues”. Nothing stays in the same place for long, as if Byard is afraid to be associated with any style and for once, this work’s to his advantage; stride passages sit comfortably next to more modern shades, with Izenzon and Jones helping immeasurably to keep the flow. “St. Louis Blues” is a good example of what the group is up to; a relatively conventional head is juxtaposed with thundering tympani and bowed bass dive-bombs.
This is about as coherent as a Byard album gets. Even the freest moments are as jarring as one might expect. Exemplifying one of jazz’s oddballs, this remains one of Byard’s most interesting and accomplished musical puzzles.