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Do The Boomerang: The Music Of Junior Walker by Don Byron

As a pattern emerges, it appears that Don Byron’s recordings arise from one of three origins: the making of a musical point in argument against a prevailing critical view, social commentary, or the revisiting of childhood influences. With Ivey-Divey, Byron wanted to disprove the critical belief that Lester Young’s abilities declined in the years after he left the Army by reexamining the saxophonist’s work on the Lester Young Trio album on Mercury. Nu Blaxploitation included what was then relevant protest about Princess Diana’s death and Ron Furman, and Tuskegee Experiments was ahead of its time in decrying the horrific work done there. Then, his Six Musicians albums recalled the Latin music he would hear in his Bronx neighborhood, as well as the Byron’s father’s work in calypso groups.

Now, Byron, unpredictable but consistent as ever, has recorded an album featuring the music of Junior Walker, one of the musicians his parents used to take him to see at the Apollo Theater. In the same way that Byron encourages a re-listen to the overlooked music of Mickey Katz, Byron has brought to the attention of listeners once again the music of Autry "Junior Walker" DeWalt. As an extension of his preparation for Ivey-Divey, Byron switches to tenor sax from clarinet on ten of the tracks of Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker.

In many respects, Do the Boomerang is Byron’s most accessible album as he emphasizes the groove of Walker’s music, which was based in the gospel music of his childhood. Shrewdly, Byron notes the same origins in James Brown’s appeal and he includes Brown’s "There It Is" in The Music of Junior Walker, even though that one track isn’t Junior Walker’s music. Without a noticeable change of style, "There It Is" appears as a bridge between the two halves of the album.

Though Byron himself honors Walker as a saxophonist, he was a singer too. One of his songs, "What Does It Take," remains an often-heard classic. So for his Do the Boomerang project, Byron recruited two singers, Dean Bowman and Chris Thomas King, who recorded four of the tracks the day after his mother passed in New Orleans.

True to the spirit of Walker’s music, Byron’s group infuses it with humor, irreverence, funk and accessibility. Though the leader of the recording, Byron is content throughout much of it to set up on tenor sax the attitude for the songs or to accompany the singers with insinuating commentary. Leave it to Bowman and King to convey the wit of songs, like King’s version of "Pucker Up Buttercup" about the girl who refuses to kiss her dates goodnight. On "Roadrunner," Bowman sings about refusing to be tied down because it’s not in his nature ("I’m a roadrunner baby/Can’t stay in one place too long"). But while Walker’s (and Brown’s) music has its entertainment value, some outstanding musical moments occur throughout the album, vocally and instrumentally.

The first track, "Cleo’s Mood," opens in subdued, haunting fashion and Byron even lowers the volume of some notes to a whisper. However, Bowman, who almost inaudibly sings the melody in unison on the first chorus, astounds the listener with his wordless improvisation, employing percussive vocal technique, modified yodeling and octave leaps (repeated later by Byron) that one would expect only from a Bobby McFerrin. "Tally-Ho," which commences with organist George Colligan’s comical call to the hunt and an effete "talley-ho" turns out to be a showcase for Byron and Colligan and guitarist David Gilmore as they whip up an infectious blues.

On "Mark Anthony Speaks," Byron, with no small assistance from Gilmore and Colligan, effectively builds the excitement from the melodic kernel that Walker provided through improvisational elaboration, reminding the listener of Eddie Harris’s influence on his playing. Then Gilmore takes command of the grinding "Satan’s Blues" by heightening the level of excitement far above the expectations set up by the understated first chorus.

Byron is certainly eclectic and no one but he can predict the theme of his next CD. But with the release of Do the Boomerang, Byron, while going on record about another of his varied musical interests, has produced a uniformly enjoyable album that appeals to a broad spectrum of listeners.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Don Byron
  • CD Title: Do The Boomerang: The Music Of Junior Walker
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Blue Note
  • Tracks: Cleo’s Mood, Ain’t That the Truth, Do the Boomerang, Mark Anthony Speaks, Shotgun, There It Is, Satan’s Blues, Hewbie Steps Out, Pucker Up Buttercup, Tally-Ho, What Does It Take, Roadrunner
  • Musicians: Don Byron (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Chris Thomas King (vocals, guitar), Dean Bowman (vocals), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), David Gilmore (guitar), George Colligan (Hammond B-3 organ), Brad Jones (bass), Rodney Holmes (drums, tambourine)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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