In the past, Don Byron has had a tendency to take himself a bit too seriously. His eclectic approach includes everything from contemporary classical to avant garde jazz and even klezmer music (his reworking of the music of Mickey Katz brought him a lot of attention a few years back). Such diversity can scare away the typical listener and all of this far-flung "concept" stuff tends to obscure the fact that Byron is still the most intriguing jazz clarinet player to emerge in the past 20 years. So on the rare occasion that he's found blowing some fairly straight ahead stuff, as on his new Blue Note affair, one would be wise to bend an ear in his direction. Fronting a kick-ass band that includes fellow iconoclast Bill Frisell and drummer Jack DeJohnette, Byron pushes the envelope without shutting out his audience. Instead of using tonal manipulations and other "outside" effects for sheer novelty, Byron's mercurial technique is more tempered and in tune with the mood dictated by each given piece. Take for instance Ellington's "A Mural From Two Perspectives" and his own "Homegoing," both of which unfold logically while developing a natural balance of tension and release. A bit more daring, Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap" has been so transformed as to be almost indistinguishable, with Byron's guttural musings backed by Frisell's industrial twang. The venerable standard "Perdido" is also given a facelift, albeit a less dramatic one, and this time DeJohnette gets to take center stage for a radiant display of percussion mastery. In many ways this one could be a breakthrough for Byron, who has always skirted the boundary between the mainstream and avant garde. ROMANCE WITH THE UNSEEN has more than enough inherent adventure to please the underground crowd, but it's also user-friendly enough to draw the attention of those who may have been reluctant to test the waters.
Artist / Group Name:Don Byron
CD Title:Romance With the Unseen
Record Label:Blue Note
Musicians:Don Byron (clarinet), Bill Frisell, Jack DeJohnette (drum)