LIKE THE SPANISH GUITAR itself, Charlie Byrd's music is virtually synonymous with candlelit romance. And that mood pervades his latest album, "Isn't It Romantic," a collection of standards by the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and a few of their contemporaries who just happened to share a knack for writing a timeless love song every now and then.
All the qualities one associates with Byrd's guitar playing are on display here. His classical training and jazz intuition manifest themselves in the articulate tone and supple phrasing that shine through each of these performances. Only one solo number is included -- a lovely rendition of the Gershwin classic "Someone To Watch Over Me" -- but the self-effacing accompaniment of bassist Joe Byrd and drummer Chuck Redd allows the guitarist to gently preside over all the material. Several of the selections find the bass humming and the cymbals glittering in the background as Byrd warms to the original melody before embarking on a judicious finger-style excursion. Among the highlights are the collaborative spirit on "I Could Write a Book," the guitarist's tender interpretation of "The Very Thought of You," and a swinging, sharply syncopated version of "Thou Swell."
Byrd and Woody Herman will perform together this weekend at Charlie's of Georgetown, and what they'll play is anyone's guess. But judging from Herman's new album, "World Class," he's primed for the experience. The album, recorded in concert in Japan, finds Herman leading yet another edition of his Thundering Herd and providing a rare showcase for his special guests -- veteran tenor saxophonists Al Cohn, Med Flory, Sal Nistico and Flip Phillips.
The peaks include a growly vocal tribute to Louis Armstrong on "Rockin' Chair," an invigorating big-band chart for the all-star tenors on "The Claw," and Cohn's sensitive and ultimately entrancing performance of his own tune, "Woody's Lament."
Elsewhere, there's plenty of time for Herman and his Herd to make the point that big bands -- at least this one -- are still alive and roaring. "Greasy Sack Blues," for instance, provides a wonderful airing for the entire ensemble, including Herman's sinuous clarinet. Anyone who doubts the viability of big bands today should give this one a listen. THE CHARLIE BYRD TRIO -- "Isn't It Romantic" (Concord CJ-252); THE WOODY HERMAN BIG BAND -- "World Class" (Concord CJ-240); Herman appears with the Byrd Trio at Charlie's Georgetown Friday through Sunday.