Don Byron has indeed done "it" again - put out an expectations-defying platter that manages to be both creative AND user-friendly. If composer/clarinetist Byron has a dictum, it’s prob’ly "don’t make the same album twice" - but I think I’ve said that about him before. Though this album is subtitled ‘More Music For Six Musicians" it is most decidedly NOT leftover stuff/outtakes from "Music For Six Musicians," his free-Latin jazz album of a few years back.
The Latin/Afro-Cuban sound is very much in evidence - a foundation for most of the compositions, in fact - but its as if Byron has absorbed the essence of that sound into his brainy, knotty pieces rather than "this is my salsa tune, then a cumbia, then a tango," etc., using it respectfully as a point of departure for his protean muse. Additionally, it sounds like Byron’s been digging the Henry Mancini canon of late: he covers Hank M’s "Theme From ‘Hatari’" and his original "Klang" recalls the Mood Master’s classy, sultry, quasi-exotic film music.
The trance-like, minimalist (yet oddly funky) DJ Spooky remix of Byron’s "Belmondo’s Lip" is a tip-o’-the-hat to another music-for-a-number-of players watershed album: Steve Reich’s "Music For 18 Musicians." DB and his gang do the Afro-Cuban thing straight-up and uncut, too: "Shake ‘Em Up" will grab the Pancho Sanchez and Tito Puente fans big-time. Throughout, the man’s clarinet is aces/first class all the way - his sound is so mellifluous it sounds at times like Jean "Toots" Thielemans’ harmonica, so you might not at first notice all the wondrously mad ideas shooting through his solos. Oh yeah, not to slight his (more than 6 players, actually) band any: sharp Blue Mitchell-like trumpet from James Zollar and the incomparable Milton Cardona plays congas, percussion and sings, plus guest shots from J.D. Parran, Josh Roseman and Ralph Alessi.
Almost 60 minutes of thoughtful, witty, varied, inventive, succinct and fun modern music - what else do you need to know? (Hey Don, how about a dub or country & western-themed album next time ‘round?)