Clarinetist Don Byron is proof that one can be a serious musician and still have fun. A member of Mensa, he's a composer of "serious music like A Ballad for Many (Cantaloupe, 2006). Still, anyone who was at his Montreal Jazz Festival show this past summer knows that, whether he's reinventing Afro-Cuban music on Music for Six Musicians (Nonesuch, 1995) or mixing up Puccini with the Four Tops on Arias and Lieder (Blue Note, 1999), he's also got a down-to-earth sense of humor.
He's also someone who likes a good time, and Do the Boomerang is the closest thing to a party record he's ever made. This tribute to the late R&B icon Junior Walker isn't some kind of soul-jazz hybrid; it's rough-and-ready, down-and-dirty rhythm and bluesas it should be.
Best known as a clarinetist, Byron has picked up the tenor saxophone in recent years, specifically on his multigenerational Ivey Divey (Blue Note, 2004). Here it's his main axe and, as was the case with his tribute to Lester Young's trio with pianist Nat "King Cole and drummer Buddy Rich, he's done his homework. He may be a virtuoso player with a broad vernacular, but here it's all about blues and, with very rare exception, he sticks faithfully with the language.
The fact, though, is that so many of R&B's best artists have had more than a passing acquaintance with jazz, and the reverse is also true. Ornette Coleman, after all, started out in Texas R&B bands. Byron's core groupguitarist David Gilmore, organist George Colligan, bassist Brad Jones and drummer Rodney Holmesmay all be better known for working in the jazz sphere, but here they're totally credible, grooving hard throughout. With this music, it's not the notes you play so much as how you play them, and everyone solos with a conviction that makes you feel as though they've been doing this all their lives.
It's surprising just how many of Walker's songs have worked their way into the collective unconscious. Even those who aren't R&B fans will be surprised at the familiarity of almost the entire set, with songs like the funky "Shotgun, (with guest singer Dean Bowman), up-tempo "Pucker Up, Buttercup and soulful "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) (both featuring singer Chris Thomas King) high points of a strong set that's virtually impossible to resist.
Everyone shines and solos abound, but these twelve songs clock in at just under 52 minutes, so this is no blow-fest. It's more about the vibe, the groove and the songs. At the live dates coming up in the next few months, there'd better be room for people to dance, because Do the Boomerang is a booty-shaking disc that few will be able to resist.
Track Listing: Cleo's Mood; Ain't That the Truth; Do the Boomerang; Mark Anthony Speaks; Shotgun; There It Is; Satan's Blues; Hewbie Steps Out; Pucker Up, Buttercup; Tally-Ho; What Does It Take (To Win Your Love); (I'm a) Roadrunner.
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).