Clarinetist Don Byron has fashioned a career something akin to a great jazz history lesson. With albums like Plays the Music of Mickey Katz and Bug Music , he demonstrated some of its traditional roots, whereas Music for Six Musicians and You are #6 explored the Latin and Afro-Cuban legacies. Tuskegee Experiments and the frighteningly good live record No Vibe Zone demonstrated where jazz might be going, at least in one person's view. Now, with Ivey-Divey , Byron consolidates it all into a recording that tells of the music's past, present and possible future all in one seventy-five minute stretch.
With a core group featuring piano wunderkind Jason Moran and drummer Jack DeJohnette, inarguably one of the most stylistically broad players of the past forty years, Byron pays homage to the similarly bass-less trio of Lester Young, Nat "King" Cole, and Buddy Rich. But this is no mere tribute record; in fact, Byron is quick to point out that "this is less of a repertory record than some of my others, I didn't want this just to be 'Don Byron Plays Lester Young.'" Nor is it. Instead, Byron, Moran and DeJohnette take five pieces commonly associated with Young, and stretch them to their limits.
Take "Somebody Loves Me," which is presented in two vastly different takes. Moran's modernistic stride takes both versions to places Cole might only have dreamed of, in particular on the alternate take, where the trio plays loose and free with time in ways that would have been unheard of in the '40s, while still maintaining a reverence that clearly draws a line from the past to the present.
Elsewhere Byron contributes four originals that deliver on everything from the absurd Bugs Bunny-influenced funk groove of "Leopold, Leopold!" with bassist Lonnie Plaxico providing some nice contrast to the trio pieces, to the lyrical "Himm (for Our Lord and Kirk Franklin)," a stately duo between Byron and Moran, which extends gospel into the 21st century.
And to draw a link between the distant past and the present/future, Byron tackles two pieces associated with Miles Davis, from two different periods. The bluesy "Freddie Freeloader," another trio piece, begins with a cool yet slightly disjointed groove, but soon picks up steam, heading for reaches farther afield. "In a Silent Way," with Plaxico once again sitting in, is an interesting take on the original, with an approach that is more organic yet, when DeJohnette comes in with his take on Tony Williams' signature drum beat, completely on target.
Ivey-Divey manages to succeed on many fronts, but mostly it's a consolidation of sorts, one that looks to the future without neglecting the past. The clarinet may not be the most popular instrument in jazz these days, although it does seem to be making something of a comeback, but in the hands of Byron, it's as vital and significant as any other.
Personnel: Don Byron (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone), Jason Moran (piano), Jack DeJohnette (drums except on "Himm"), Ralph Alessi (trumpet on "The Goon Drag," "Leopold, Leopold!"), Lonnie Plaxico (bass on "The Goon Drag," "Abie the Fisherman," "Lefty Teachers at Home," "Leopold, Leopold!" "In a Silent Way")