Through previous recordings in honor of Sly Stone, Igor Stravinsky, Henry Mancini and other influences on his highly individualized muse, Don Byron has demonstrated a great feeling for tributes. His sixth Blue Note release honors Autry DeWalt, who blew as "Junior Walker a string of saxophone/organ hurricanes that contributed mightily to the rock-soul wing of Motown Records at the label's peak.
Byron mostly matches Walker's tenor saxophone, exploring in "Mark Anthony Speaks the outer reaches of soul-jazz like an adventurous Eddie Harris sax excursion, then burning deeply into the red-hot, for damn sure "Satan's Blues. "Shotgun is the absolute rockin' shit, here rivaled for funky intensity only by the number immediately following, a churning and burning James Brown cover ("There It Is ).
But Byron also changes instruments twice, and both times to great effect: interpreting "Do The Boomerang on clarinet, instead of the familiar saxophone, keeps this title track from sounding or feeling like "just another saxophone groove, no matter how torrid, in the set; and his bass clarinet makes the soft ballad "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) sound happy yet sad, somehow almost Chaplin-like.
Though his own playing is plenty good and hot, Byron affords considerable space to David Gilmore (guitar) and George Colligan (Hammond B-3 organ), plus guest guitarist/vocalist Chris Thomas King on two of Walker's most well-known hits, "What Does It Take and "Boomerang. For his part, producer Hans Wendl brilliantly replicates both the immediate, in-your-face sound of Walker's original recordings and the articulate, classic Blue Note jazz sheen, too.
Byron does more than pick the right songs for this tribute, and even more than cast these songs in sympathetic keys and play the correct notes in the proper tempos. He captures the rocking and soulful spirit that fueled this turbo-charged music, which is an exponentially more difficult (and more satisfying) accomplishment.
Personnel: Don Byron: tenor saxophone, clarinet (3), bass clarinet (11); Curtis Fowlkes: trombone (6,11); David Gilmore: guitar; George Colligan: Hammond B-3 organ; Brad Jones: bass; Rodney Holmes: drums, tambourine; Chris Thomas King: vocals (3,6,9,11), guitar (3,11); Dean Bowman: vocals (1,5,6,12).