Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Don Byron: Ivey-Divey

Over the last decade, Don Byron has dominated his instrument like no other reed player in jazz and he has been the musician most responsible for the return of the clarinet as an important solo vehicle. Yet his recording career as a leader has been uneven.

Byron has gotten caught up in various one-off improbable projects (klezmer bands, collaborations with rappers, Schu-mann and Puccini arias), and while he has always risen above them and discovered startling new cultural and musical juxtapositions, they have limited if not distorted his artistic development.

Ivey-Divey could change all that.

While it continues Byron’s history of idiosyncratic projects (it is a tribute to a 1946 recording by a Lester Young bass-less trio with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich), it works. In fact, it more than works-it is outrageous and sublime.

Jason Moran and Jack DeJohnette are inspired choices for the Cole and Rich chairs. Moran’s powerful piano injects constant surprise and ideational density into the group improvisations. DeJohnette, with his crashing strategic eruptions and running side commentaries, always instigates.

As for Byron, he plays (clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone) with a wild abandon made meaningful by the clarity of his overarching purpose. He is after, not the literal language, but the spirit of the Young trio: “very joyous sounding, but also cerebral.” Performances begin with embedded vintage material associated with Pres like “Somebody Loves Me” (in two epic takes) and “I’ve Found a New Baby,” and escalate into maelstroms of ecstasy and analysis. “I Want to Be Happy” somehow does not fly apart despite Byron’s roaring and shrieking on bass clarinet and Moran’s hammering.

Byron also finds Young’s spirit residing in two Miles Davis classics, “In a Silent Way” and “Freddie Freeloader.” The latter references the original and then explodes it (in Byron’s rapturous clarinet pipings) and stomps on it (in Moran’s merciless disso-nant kicks).

With Ivey-Divey, Don Byron has finally made a major album.

Originally Published