Jaki Byard above left and Tommy Flanagan
Monday sees the release of Tommy Flanagan and Jaki Byard’s The Magic of 2: Live at Keystone Korner available on CD and vinyl. Housed in CD format in a sturdy stiffly-boarded digipak with a picture of the street sign of San Francisco club Keystone Korner, where the album was recorded on a February night in 1982, on the inside front and a full plate photograph of the pianists on the inside back, the music is annotated carefully with producer Zev Feldman doing the introduction and then a note from the first voice actually on the record Todd Barkan, who was general manager of the Korner and now after a spell at Jazz@Lincoln Center is at Iridium in New York city.
Barkan used to record artists at the club on cassette and explains that: “From 1972-1983 Tommy and Jaki both came out from New York to play regularly at Keystone Korner in San Francisco, singularly leading their own bands, and together for a total of two weeks.” In his introduction on the first track from the stage Barkan then continues the praise by quoting club favourite Rahsaan Roland Kirk as he introduces Byard as “the emperor of creative jazz piano” while reserving lavish praise on Flanagan as well. The songs in the set are Bird’s ‘Scrapple From The Apple’; Cole Porter’s ‘Just One Of Those Things’; Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’; Strayhorn’s ‘Something To Live For’; and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Send One Your Love’ with an extensive quotation, the main talking point of the whole set, from ‘Giant Steps’ performed by Byard not Flanagan who of course played the epic Coltrane composition on the original Atlantic studio album of the same name. Later Tadd Dameron’s ‘Our Delight’ is probably the most orthodox bebop rendering of the album, with a lovely little ‘English Country Garden’ quotation at the end, while the album is steeped in Ellingtonia that Tommy Flanagan himself alludes to in his brief words before the quietly moving ‘Something To Love For’ (he says “Jaki Byard just quit” [to laughter] so it gives me a chance to play something alone, see”).
The album also includes Strayhorn’s ‘All Day Long’; the standard ‘Sunday’; Strayhorn’s ‘Chelsea Bridge’; an oddity in Chuck Mangione’s ‘Land of Make Believe’, which Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap in a note towards the end of the CD booklet says “finds Jaki in a freer zone. You can hear Jaki’s humour and intensity.” A seven-and-a-half minute version of Miles’ ‘The Theme’ completes The Magic of 2. Distinguished jazz writer Howard Mandel and historian Dan Morgenstern contribute to the scholarship in the album’s booklet and Mandel quotes Jason Moran who took lessons from Byard interestingly, with the pianist commenting: “I think of Tommy as a legato player, Jaki as a staccato player. Tommy slides through the rhythm, each move well-calculated, while Jaki is trying to up-end the structure all the time. Tommy plays within the steps of the tune, and Jaki plays these large intervals, which are strangely beautiful.”
And the beauty is there particularly on Flanagan’s solo take on ‘Chelsea Bridge’, while Byard is possibly at his best on ‘Send One Your Love’ the Wonder tune from Secret Life of Plants released three years before this club date. The sound quality while good isn’t totally pristine possibly this is down to the fact that the source is from cassette tape but it’s perfectly acceptable and creates no barrier to enjoyment, the only downside is that there’s too much piano bass at times and the treble sound is not as clear as it could be. Byard died in 1999 and Flanagan in 2001. This release keeps memory of these departed mastiers alive by the care and attention to detail the producers exhibit. Their music making continues to give joy and pleasure, and Resonance once more have made a big contribution to curating jazz from yesteryear. Stephen Graham