December 1999

Don Byron
Romance With the Unseen
Blue Note Records

Clarinetist Don Byron has put together an extraordinary quartet for his latest set of recordings, and given them a solid set of music to explore. Bill Frisell, long a Byron compere, is in non-Nashville mindset here, brilliantly laying out harmonic pathways that turn out to be something altogether different from the listener's expectations: changes, indeed. Bassist Drew Gress probes constantly, even outlining the simplest changes. For drummer Jack DeJohnette, the usual superlatives apply: his finely-shaded cultivation of time around the music at hand is as good as it gets. The ferocious "Bernhard Goetz, James Ramseur and Me," shows the full quartet at full tilt; the Lennon-McCartney "I'll Follow the Sun," with its enchanting changes, is a particularly apt choice for clarinet, as well as for Frisell's crystalline musings. Byron pays homage to Ellington with "Mural from Two Perspectives" and "Perdido," with the latter being a pretext for these fine players losing themselves in the music. Byron quotes liberally through his solo: when "Laura" pops her head up, dancing to Byron's quirkily individual approach to the line, she reveals much of Don Byron's approach to improvisation and jazz.

Originally published in December 1999

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