A lesser-known avant-gardist who has been based much of his career in Philadelphia, Byard Lancaster is an advanced improviser who is not shy to show the influence of blues and soul in his solos. He played with Sunny Murray starting in 1965 and worked with Bill Dixon (1966-1967), Sun Ra (off and on between 1968-1971), and McCoy Tyner (1971-1977). Lancaster played for a bit with Memphis Slim in Paris, but has mostly performed jazz locally. All of his own recordings were for obscure labels (including Vortex, Dogtown, Palm, Philly Jazz, and Bellows), but his 1966 ESP date with Sunny Murray has been reissued on CD. (Scott Yanow/AMG)
I first heard Byard Lancaster on a DJ Cam compilation (RENDEZ-VOUS) back in '94 and I've been trying to find his albums ever since! This is about the only review of IT'S NOT UP TO US I've found:
"Lancaster, who recently turned 61, originally recorded this, his debut album, for the Vortex label back in 1966. Lancaster's playful, Pied Piper flute work on the title track delivers an infectious, lightweight melody that's perfect for a walk around the block or a jog through the park; while those of us who remember the fear and trepidation of the final days of summer just before Labor Day as you reticently accept the foregone conclusion that sun and fun are over and it's back to the books and studies, will especially appreciate the forlorn melancholia dripping from Lancaster's flute on "Last Summer." And while it's probably not the version Jessica Walter had in mind when she phoned up DJ Clint Eastwood with the request to "Play 'Misty' For Me," Lancaster's take on the old Errol Garner classic demonstrates his improvisational skills as his alto sax envelops the rudiments of the melody line with fills, trills, thrills and spills right up to the shockingly strangulated three-note conclusion.
Guitarist Sonny Sharrock's "John's Children" (a tribute to Coltrane, not Marc Bolan's pre-T.Rex psych band who were making their debut recordings around the same time) presents the lineup (including Jerome Hunter, bass and particularly Eric Gravatt on drums) with the opportunity to really stretch out. By the middle of the piece, Sharrock's guitar has taken on an almost raga-like quality which, complimented by Keno Speller's congas and Lancaster's syncopated punctuation marks on his alto sax results in, perhaps, the album's closest contact with the burgeoning psychedelia developing within the rock idiom. Although unacknowledged, a young Roger McGuinn may have found some inspiration here for his masterful 12-string workout on "Eight Miles High."
Lancaster's flute on his own composition, "Mr. A.A." ventures into Celtic folk territory and on more than one occasion I found myself drifting back to the early Donovan catalogue, particularly "There Is A Mountain" or any of the childlike fairy tales on the Gift From A Flower To A Garden collection. I also had to check the track listing to confirm my suspicions that Lancaster really was covering "Over The Rainbow," although, even more so than on "Misty," he merely uses the familiar melody line as a springboard for a phantasmagorical display of his improvisational talents. As with Hendrix' interpretation of the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, the song is there, yet it's not REALLY there...it almost becomes a completely new composition.
And while Lancaster's presence is practically non-existent on the nine-minute closer, "Satan," it's what we've encountered beforehand, from his lilting, melodic flute and occasional forays into folk and rock, to his more-than-competent, yet never ostentatious improvs that results in an album of essentially jazz recordings that will also appeal to non-jazz aficionados like myself." (Review courtesy of Jeff Penczak/fakejazz.com)
Byard Lancaster (as, fl) Sonny Sharrock (g) Jerome Hunter (b, el-b) Eric Gravatt (d) Kenny "Keno" Speller (cga d)
NYC, December 18, 1966 and July 12, 1967.