Culture, both niche and mass appeal, clearly intrigue clarinetist/composer Don Byron and for several years he has used his pen and horn to examine it from his own perspective. With his ethnomusicological openness he has celebrated cultural uniqueness and in the process championed racial commonalities. Byron's latest two projects highlight an ability to use a sense of historical import to bring his own fascinations to a wide audience. The first of these, Do the Boomerang, has Byron surprising on tenor as he reprises the underappreciated work of saxophonist Jr. Walker while the second, A Ballad for Many, is a potpourri of Byron originals interpreted by the phenomenal musicians in the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
Like the blast that begins his mega hit "Shotgun , Jr. Walker crossed over from the R&B world at the height of Beatlemania to the top of the pop charts. A session man with a big horn, his All Stars were a tight band that used a combination of thumping bass, fat chordal organ and Willie Woods' funky guitar to make highly danceable music. Instrumental primacy, interplay amongst organ, guitar and tenor and, of course, Walker's bone crushing sound set his music apart. Byron has elected essentially to reconstruct Walker's hit list but with his own musical stamp. The interplay is there but in a more intricate way as tunes are extended out with more improv. Bassist Brad Jones and B3 bomber George Colligan add lip smacking juice while guitarist David Gilmore's leads are funkily filthy on "Ain't that the Truth and "(I'm a) Road Runner . "Shotgun , here taken a bit more up-tempo, typifies Byron's tenor playing which is not as growling as Walker's but is all the more clean and musical. Walker's mellower come-back hit "What does it take (to win your love) has Byron on bass clarinet and his trademark clarinet solo elegantly intros the title cut with Dean Bowman and Chris Thomas King adding soulful vocals throughout.
The Bang On A Can All-Stars continue to be musicians who, like Byron, play with a chamber exactitude while seamlessly mixing and matching genres. A Ballad for Many features historically based suites and personal Byron compositions. His beautiful clarinet fits perfectly as he guests on three cuts: delicately soaring on the achingly striking tribute to the Haitian-American painter "Basquiat and joining with clarinetist Evan Ziporyn on two short pieces from the long suite "Music from the Red Tailed Angels . The latter, a nine-part tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, fittingly portrays these historically significant African American pilots. Wendy Sutter's cello and Lisa Moore's piano blend exceptionally well and their deep sonority on "Eugene , a suite composed for a silent skit by the late comedian/social commentator Ernie Kovacs, thrills. Session ender "Show Him Some Lub is a clever confessional that includes band member answers to personal questions against a funky backdrop. Byron's compositions hold up exceedingly well in the hands of these proficient players.
Tracks and Personnel
Do the Boomerang
Tracks: 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: Player Name: Don Byron: tenor saxophone, clarinet (3), bass clarinet (11); Curtis Fowlkes: trombone (6 and 11); David Gilmore: guitar; George Colligan: Hammond B-3 organ; Brad Jones: bass; Rodney Holmes: drums, tambourine; Chris Thomas King: vocals (3,6,9 and 11), guitar (3 and 11; Dean Bowman: vocals (1,5,6 and 12).
A Ballad for Many
Tracks: Eugene: I; II; III; IV; V; VI. Fyodorovich; Blinky Blanky Blokoe; Spin; Basquiat; Music from The Red-Tailed Angels: Integrity; Silver Wings; Despite a Barrage; Explanation; 450 Tuskegee Airmen; You Can Fly; Finally in 1941; Fortunately; Credits. Show Him Some Lub.
Personnel: Robert Black: bass; David Cossin: drum set, percussion; Lisa Moore: piano; Mark Stewart: electric guitars; Wendy Sutter: cello; Evan Ziporyn: clarinet, bass clarinet; Don Byron: clarinet (10, 12, 19).