Romance with the Unseen

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Blue Note
PERFORMER: Don Byron (cl), Bill Frisell (g), Drew Gress (b), Jack DeJohnette (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 4 99545 2

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Classically trained and with a fondness for Stravinsky, clarinettist Don Byron moved into jazz under the influence of the uncompromising ‘M-Base’ neo-bop collective. He’s been difficult to pin down since.

The album that brought him to wide attention in 1993 was a tribute to forgotten Twenties klezmer star Mickey Katz; Byron’s last recording, ‘Nu Blaxploitation’, featured rap and poetry.

The music on this new release is different again: eery, swirling improvisation based around a selection of dark originals and skewed standards. The warped guitar lines of sideman Bill Frisell add to the surreal quality of the sound, particularly on the down-tempo pieces, delicate chord curlicues decorating Byron’s sinuous solo parts.

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Up-tempo, Byron’s high-register blowing is joined by Hendrix-like fuzz effect wailing from Frisell. Drummer DeJohnette fills, pushes and shades with taste and restraint. At a time when the tenor sax dominates, jazz needs (soprano) clarinettists – and as Byron shows here, the instrument has uses beyond mainstream and swing. Garry Booth