Detroit through New York to Berlin and Brazil: Music Beats Around the World
Do The Boomerang: The Music Of Junior Walker
Through previous recordings in honor of Sly Stone, Igor Stravinsky, Henry Mancini and other influences on his highly individualized muse, Don Byron has demonstrated a great feeling for tributes. His sixth Blue Note release honors Autry DeWalt, who blew as "Junior Walker a string of saxophone/organ hurricanes that contributed mightily to the rock-soul wing of Motown Records at the label's peak.
Byron mostly matches Walker's tenor saxophone, exploring in "Mark Anthony Speaks the outer reaches of soul-jazz like an adventurous Eddie Harris sax excursion, then burning deeply into the red-hot, for damn sure "Satan's Blues. "Shotgun is the absolute rockin' shit, here rivaled for funky intensity only by the number immediately following, a churning and burning James Brown cover ("There It Is ).
But Byron also changes instruments twice, and both times to great effect: interpreting "Do The Boomerang on clarinet instead of on familiar saxophone keeps this title track from sounding or feeling like "just another saxophone groove, no matter how torrid, in the set; and bass clarinet makes the soft ballad "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) sound happy yet sad, somehow almost Chaplin-like.
Though his own playing is plenty good and hot, Byron affords considerable space to guitarist David Gilmore and George Colligan on Hammond B-3 organ, plus guest guitarist/vocalist Chris Thomas King on two of Walker's most well-known hits, "What Does It Take and "Boomerang. For his part, producer Hans Wendl brilliantly replicates both the immediate, "in your face sound of Walker's original recordings and the articulate, classic Blue Note jazz sheen, too.
Byron does more than pick the right songs for this tribute, and even more than cast these songs in sympathetic keys and play the correct notes in the proper tempos. He captures the rocking and soulful spirit that fueled this turbo-charged music, which is an exponentially more difficult (and more satisfying) accomplishment.
Now I Understand
About eight years ago, composer/bassist Mike Rivard began leading a "floating residency in Cambridge, MA, organized around the rhythm section, which pulsed behind a kaleidoscope of horn, keyboard, percussion and guitar players. After seven live releases, Rivard finally shepherds his "ever-changing performance ensemble into their first studio album.
No fewer than 25 musicians participate in the workshop, happily hammering around the core "Elves : Rivard on basses and sintir, a three-stringed bass lute from Morocco; drummer Erik Kerr; Mister Rourke on turntables; and Brahim Fribgane on percussion, oud and dumbek.
Miles Davis most likely would have laughed his ass off, but in the best way, at Now I Understand as a bastard child of Bitches Brew. Brew experimented with essential elements of modern jazz, rock and funk, in new ways, for new purposes; Now I Understand does essentially the same thing - experiment and improvise - but instead uses progressive rock, hip-hop and indigenous music as its raw material. Rivard explains that although many of the band are trained musicians and have come from the jazz tradition, they're also informed by the aesthetic of DJ culture.
Their exotic journey begins with "Bass Beat Box, a Club staple built up from Rivard's ascending bass scale and hammered down by two drummers (Jay Hilt plays "slow with Kerr on "fast drums). Electronic effects polish the drums to sound robotic, metallicthe pounding corrosive sound of futuristic funk.
A fluffy sound cloud ("Quilty ) melts into "Vishnu Dub, strikingly colored by Fribgane's oud and dumbek while guitarists Gerry Leonard and Duke Levine explore outer galaxies of sound. In the cool shadow of Jenifer Jackson's doe-eyed vocal, "A Toy For A Boy sounds like lost Syd Barrett, an oddly peaceful haven from the aggressive, relentless experimentation that follows in "Wet Bones (extended), an interstellar reggae-dub cryptogram that builds outward in layers, and the electro-ethnic tour-de-force "Visions Of Kali.
An octet that turns on guitarist Reeves Gabrels, John Medeski on keyboards and DJ Logic on turntables, paints a portrait in sound for the title track, an electronic thrust into the blackest heart of modern darkness.
Nigeria and Cuba through Iowa City, USA
Explorations In Afrobeat
The second release from this seven-piece ensemble seems quite purposeful. Subtitled A fusion of Nigerian and Cuban music rooted in Yoruba tradition, it explores the deep connection between West African Afrobeat and Afro-Cuban music channeled through the religious, ceremonial music of the Yoruba tradition of West Africa.