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Don Byron: You Are #6

Don Byron isn’t really known for blowing sessions. Though his latest release, You Are #6 , has some of the conceptual embellishments of his previous studio albums, this is the closest Byron’s come to a casual jazz recording since his 1996 live date, No Vibe Zone. On Your Are #6, Byron seems less concerned with convincing us of the unlikely or schooling us about the unholy.

There is no overarching theme on You Are #6. The CD’s title is a play on many references, from the number of years after Byron’s first Music for Six Musicians, to the name of his band and to The Prisoner, an existentialist, self vs. society, late-’60s British television series in which the protagonist’s name was reduced to the #6.

Without the sometimes too-glaring conceptual sheen, You Are #6 allows us to focus more on Byron the clarinetist, arranger and bandleader. He’s always been a thrilling improviser with a hearty tone, biting rhythmic sensibility and deliberate sense of direction. On the majestic “Klang” Byron’s luxurious solo effortlessly glides against the punchy horns and hypnotic samba rhythms. He plays joyously throughout the CD, whether it’s on Afro-Cuban stomps like “Theme From Hatari!” and “A Whisper in My Ear (For Mario Bauza),” the zesty calypso “Shake ‘Em Up” or the sensuous Brazilian dances of “Belmondo’s Lip” and “Klang.” His most emotionally gripping playing, however, is on the pithy ballad “No Whine.” It’s the quiet centerpiece of an album percolating with danceable polyrhythms. Accompanied by pianist Edsel Gomez, Byron slowly uncoils a languid melody that seduces not only from his voluminous contoured phrases, but also from the clarinetist’s beautiful, resonant sound.

Reportedly, Music for Six Musicians is Byron’s favorite ensemble. They certainly set up the ideal rhythmic and orchestral springboard for his daring flights. Trumpeter James Zollar’s trumpet smears contrast wonderfully with Byron’s spiky clarinet lines. Drummer Ben Wittman and legendary percussionist Milton Cardona generate the right amount of heat underneath Byron and Zollar without being intrusive to the subtle interplay between bassist Leo Traversa and pianist Gomez. And when special guests show up on “Shake ‘Em Up,” including his bass-playing father, Don Byron Sr., trumpeter Ralph Alessi and trombonists Curtis Fowlkes and Joshua Roseman, You Are #6 parties hard, like it doesn’t have a care in the world.

Originally Published