More than a dozen albums into his Blue Note tenure, Donald Byrd’s 1967 date Slow Drag would be one of the last pure hard bop sessions that the reliably brilliant trumpeter would cut before his music began evolving towards fusion. Byrd flies high on this highly gratifying set that finds it’s groove across a variety of feels fueled by the tremendous drumming of Billy Higgins.
The quintet is rounded out by alto saxophonist Sonny Red, pianist Cedar Walton, and bassist Walter Booker, each of whom contribute original compositions to the set list. The album opens with Byrd’s loose-limbed titled track, an endlessly entertaining 10-minute groovefest that features Higgins’ scene-stealing adlibbed vocals. “Secret Love,” a 1950s hit for Doris Day, becomes a modal jazz vehicle that shifts easily into a bright swing before Booker and Walton’s “Book’s Bossa” introduces a bossa nova flavor to the proceedings.
Red’s upbeat boogaloo number “Jelly Roll” lifts the energy at the start of Side 2 followed by Walton’s soulful jazz waltz “The Loner.” The album comes to a close with a showstopping performance of the ballad “My Ideal” that’s a showcase for Byrd’s dazzling melodicism.