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Don Byron: Romance With The Unseen

Jim Santella By

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Born and raised in the Bronx, clarinetist Don Byron has ideas to share that reflect upon many aspects common to folks all around the world. But he ties those thoughts together with a thread that weaves through America's urban centers where jazz evolved over the past century. Swinging with an all-star mainstream quartet, Byron paints pictures of everyday life and lifestyles, of the people we see everywhere, and of our feelings toward them. Don Byron's father played bass in calypso bands and his mother was a pianist. Comfortable with impressionism, the clarinetist molds his six originals around desired themes while turning up romantic ideals there and through four compositions by well-known composers.

Duke Ellington's "A Mural From Two Perspectives" swings in a loose early style, while "Perdido" is offered as bebop over arbitrary chord changes without more than a trace of its familiar melody. Whether the tune is offered in straightforward fashion or disguised, it's still an old friend and quite welcome. If Ellington's work implies romance, Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap" represents the unseen. Oozing with a constant motion, the action never slows as walking bass and ride cymbal settle behind solos from guitar and clarinet. The Lennon-McCartney song "I'll Follow the Sun," a tribute to the late painter and graffiti artist Basquiat, and Byron's "Sad Twilight" each stroll with everyman's easy gait, waltzing carelessly down the street, worry-free, and romantic.

Byron's piece based on the Bernard Goetz incident opens with Jack DeJohnette's gunshot snare drum blasts and presses forward into an up-tempo hard bop in-your-face clarinet solo that questions our society's sense of reason. The ensemble then calms toward a sober world of gradual healing, searching for a solution. Guitarist Bill Frisell recreates the horror, the outrage, the screams. Finally the ensemble sorts things out with a strong finish, reflecting upon the many worldwide ethnic and racial questions that still remain unanswered. "Homegoing," the album's longest piece at eleven and a half minutes, integrates ethnic musical elements from all over the world into one whole; full of common ideals and natural harmony, while expressing them differently. That's Don Byron.


Track Listing: A Mural From Two Perspectives; Sad Twilight; Bernard Goetz, James Ramseur, and Me; I'll Follow the Sun; 'Lude; Homegoing; One Finger Snap; Basquiat; Perdido; Closer to Home.

Personnel: Don Byron: clarinet; Bill Frisell: guitar; Drew Gress: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

Title: Romance With The Unseen | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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