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Off To The Races (1958)

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Donald Byrd

From the crackling opening notes of "Lover Come Back to Me," it's clear that Off to the Races is one of Donald Byrd's most invigorating sessions of the late '50s. Working with a stellar supporting band -- Jackie McLean (alto sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Pepper Adams (bari sax), Sam Jones (bass), Art Taylor (drums) -- Byrd turns in one of his strongest recordings of the era. Throughout the album, Byrd switches between hard bop, ballads, laid-back blues, and soul-jazz. Two of the numbers are standards, one is a cover, and three are Byrd originals, but what matters is the playing. Over the course of the album, Byrd proves he has matured greatly as a soloist, capable of sweet, melodic solos on the slower numbers and blistering runs of notes on the faster songs. McLean is just as vigorous and lyrical, contributing some fine moments to the record, as do Adams and Kelly. There's nothing surprising about Off to the Races; it's simply a set of well-performed, enjoyable hard bop, but sometimes that's enough. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine