Chris Byars’ Photos in Black, White and Gray is an egalitarian release. Though the CD bears his name, saxophonist Byars allows his quartet to solo, at length, on each of the album’s eight tracks. The structure of these original compositions, all penned by Byars, sounds the same after a while: melody, saxophone solo, piano solo, bowed bass solo, drum solo, melody, end of piece. Not all solos are created entirely equal, however, and drummer Andy Watson is relegated to trading four or eight measure choruses on many of the tunes. The lineup isn’t always the same, either (sometimes, pianist Sacha Perry, plays first), but, by the end of the CD, the effect is one of numbing predictability. This could be an asset, but on compositions like the up-tempo “Milton” and the blazingly fast “Acoustic Phenomenon”, the musicians sound like they’re wandering through each instrument, trying to grab inspiration from the air. Byars is also democratic in his use of saxophones. Sounding more at home on the alto, with a bright, easy tone that sounds chipper skipping through runs of notes, Byars picks up a soprano on “Safe at Home”, a ballad, and tenor on two tracks. The second of the tenor works eschews the piano for an intimate trio sound, but instead of exploring new structural and harmonic territory, “A.T.” sounds like any other modern swing chart: the bass still walks, the drums take up the same amount of space and Byars plays with the same approach used elsewhere.
// Notes from the Road
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