Don Byron: You Are #6: More Music for Six Musicians (2002)
An artist of multifarious tastes, Byron has embraced every musical style: he began his career playing Jewish Klezmer music; expressed free jazz inclinations on his first album, Tuskegee Experiments ; has probed hip-hop and funk; and, most recently, continues to explore new reaches with his Six Musicians band. This propensity for the heterogeneous informs Your Are #6. Byron provides Caribbean grooves, vocals, straight-ahead, calypso, and even a remix by DJ Spooky. Throughout this musical syncretism, the common thread of Caribbean rhythms pervades. Milton Cardona’s congas and percussion leave a pronounced impression on virtually every song: you’ll find your feet tapping unconsciously.
The straight-ahead tunes cook. Not surprisingly, they exhibit strong melodic structure and satisfying improvisation. "A Whisper in My Ear", a tribute to trumpeter and Byron mentor Mario Bauza, opens with a conga and percussion introduction then segues into the Latin melody stated by the horns. Byron initiates the solos traversing the range of his instrument and developing a continuous flow of ideas. Gomez displays a percussive style that's consonant with the rhythm Cardona establishes. Via his incessant, hammering block chords, Gomez isolates the root characteristic of the ivoriesin the final analysis, the piano is a percussion instrument. Zollar starts off his solo with wide spaces, extending notes for a while; as ideas evolve, he picks up the pace and spits out a flurry of half-valved buzzes. Similarly, “Dark Room” manifests a traditional head-solo-head structure and a foreboding Latin theme. Zollar’s solo ominously floats and recalls Miles of In A Silent Way. The calypso standard, “Shake ‘Em Up”, absolutely groovescogently combining calypso melody, vocals, and instrumental exchanges.
The genre-defying pieces leave something to be desiredand it’s not an issue of not getting the stuff: informed eclecticism is one thing, narcissistic whimsy is another. The brief (1:55) title track offers little to grasp onto. Aside from a spurt of clarinet improvisation, “B-Setting” meanders through repetitive incantations of the melody. Technical and improvisational brilliance marks this band, yet Byron, et al. never stretch out on these concept tunes. While politically astute, “Dub-Ya”, the leader’s commentary on the current inhabitant of the Oval Office (and originating as “an orchestral piece about dumb animals”) is musically capricious. And what’s a DJ remix doing here? On “The Prisoner”, Iron Maiden deftly applied a novelty to contribute a competent heavy metal number. Listening to Don Byron’s most recent offering, Patrick McGoohan’s Prisoner would find the sensation created by Your Are #6 ’s conceptual discordance uncannily familiar.
Track Listing: Theme From Hatari; You Are #6; Klang; B-Setting; A Whisper In My Ear (for Mario Bauza); Dub-Ya; Belmondo
Personnel: Don Byron - clarinet, bass clarinet; James Zollar - trumpet, flugelhorn; Edsel Gomez - piano; Leo Traversa - bass, vocals; Milton Cardona - congas, percussion, vocals; Ben Wittman - drums, percussion
Record Label: Blue Note Records