Album Review: Donald Byrd – The Cat Walk (Audio Wave Reissue)

A stalwart 1961 Blue Note recording, The Cat Walk features pianist Duke Pearson, bassist Laymon Jackson, energetic drummer Philly Joe Jones, and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams.

Pearson does more than hit a few blacks and whites. He adds a selection of his own arrangements and contributes three originals, including “Say Your Mine,” which highlights the reissue’s cosy sonics. Unlike poor masters, Audio Wave’s disc presents Byrd’s trumpet in an intimate fashion. The headliner lazily skims over the hills and troughs of his first solo. The passage is an early test for detail, and the XRCD24 passes with flying colors, also lending a carefully controlled bass support structure.

Indeed, the XRCD reveals a change in basic philosophy. This is not a straight remastering. Compared to the admirable Rudy Van Gelder CD edition, the XRCD is much quieter. I upped my amp gain by five notches to reach the same volume pushed out by the Gelder CD. On “Say Your Mine,” the XRCD presents a wider soundstage on which Byrd is pushed way to the left instead of just left of center. Adams’ baritone sax is nothing short of a revelation, and Jones sounds like he’s been woken from a slumber. His animated percussion is now rife with clipped, sudden strikes and generous attack missing from the Gelder edition.

The title track is a perfect example of the two different approaches. The Gelder version begins the song with a wallop as Byrd’s trumpet dominates and, if anything, is forward and a little bright in the upper mids. XRCD’s take is cooler, more mature, civilized, and calmer, taking the music in stride. The introduction no longer punches between your eyes. Instead, you’re treated to a multi-toned percussive entree and reminded that Byrd actually duets with Adams. Here, the sax has time to flow, providing a superior ensemble feel.

Moreover, on “Duke’s Mixture,” Pearson’s piano is centrally placed, acting as a sort of fulcrum around which Byrd’s trumpet and Adams’ sax spin. The XRCD helps keep the entire track afloat with a sense of purpose and a level of transparency that gives the upper-midrange frequencies time under the sonic spotlight. Those that value tonal richness will be in heaven. –Paul Rigby

You can purchase the album here.


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