Jaki Byard’s Sunshine of My Soul
(High Note) has come to my attention a bit late, otherwise it would have made my Top 10 list at the end of last year. Yet another long-lost concert-tape dug out of the vaults, it takes us to San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in June 1978, where Byard is flying barrel-rolls solo. Byard—who died in 1999 at 77, gunned down on his doorstep for still-unknown reasons—was a pianist both virtuosic and rowdy. His left hand is rock-solid, his right hand fleet with fury. Imagine Willie “The Lion” Smith pressure-cooked by Mingus (Byard played in Mingus’ band through most of the ‘60s), and you get some idea. He was a teacher to Jason Moran and Fred Hersch, two of today’s most versatile jazz pianists, and you can hear much of his influence in their work as well, especially Moran when he cruises through stride licks.
This is high-energy music, not quite as stormy as his live recordings in the mid-‘60s with a quartet that included the shamefully underrated Joe Farrell on tenor sax—Live! and The Last from Lennie’s (those albums make you sweat!)—but close enough. The sound quality is good, not great, but the music transports you with its wit, blues, and zest.