A Fine Line

COMPOSERS: Orbison,Puccini,Schumann,Sondheim,Stevie Wonder
LABELS: Blue Note
PERFORMER: Don Byron (c, bc), Uri Caine (p), Jerome Harris (b, g), Paulo Braga (d), Patricia O’Callaghan, Mark Ledford, Cassandra Wilson, Dean Bowman (v)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 26801 2

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‘Has the art of writing arias and lieder been lost altogether?’ asks Don Byron in the booklet notes to his new album. This is the classically trained jazz clarinettist who has covered the work of forgotten Fifties klezmer band-leader Mickey Katz, written and recorded themes for Tom & Jerry cartoons and pioneered the use of the clarinet in rap music.

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Only two numbers on this third recording for Blue Note actually qualify as a recognised aria or Lied – Puccini’s ‘Nessun dorma’ and Schumann’s ‘Zwielicht’. Byron’s own ‘a & l’ book contains numbers such as Roy Orbison’s ‘It’s Over’ and the Four Tops’ hit ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’. At first blush it seems a pretentious and arch project. And a couple of numbers reinforce that reaction: soprano Patricia O’Callaghan’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Creepin’’ is soulless; Cassandra Wilson sounds like Abbey Lincoln with a headcold on Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Ladies Who Lunch’. But persist and Byron’s chutzpah carries the day. It is jazz: but uniquely Byronic jazz. Garry Booth