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Jazz - Released January 1, 2000 | Blue Note Records

Distinctions Elu par Citizen Jazz
Arias and lieder are forms strongly associated with classical music, yet clarinetist Don Byron defines them in a newly expansive way for this remarkable project. To Byron, arias and lieder belong not only to classical figures, but also to writers as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Roy Orbison, Stevie Wonder, Henry Mancini, and Stephen Sondheim. Byron's right-hand man in this endeavor is pianist Uri Caine. The two play a series of duets throughout the program: "Zwielecht (Twilight)" by Robert Schumann, "Basquiat" by Byron himself, "Nessun Dorma" by Puccini, and "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," the 1966 Holland/Dozier/Holland hit sung by the Four Tops. Byron concludes the album with a solo clarinet rendition of the "Larghetto" from Chopin's second piano concerto. These duo and solo vignettes frame the full ensemble pieces, on which Byron and Caine are joined by Jerome Harris, Paulo Braga, and a number of very effective guest vocalists. Former Pat Metheny Group vocalist Mark Ledford is wispy and ethereal on Ornette Coleman's "Check Up," deep-toned and far more dramatic on Roy Orbison's "It's Over." Patricia O'Callaghan takes a turn on Leonard Bernstein's "Glitter and Be Gay," an epic piece which Byron infuses with a strong dose of calypso. Both vocalists are joined by Dean Bowman and Harris to form a four-voice choir on Henry Mancini's "Soldier in the Rain." And finally, the great Cassandra Wilson turns in a spellbinding performance on Stephen Sondheim's "The Ladies Who Lunch." The juxtapositions are unusual, and almost certain to be rejected by purists of any stripe. But at a time when more and more creative artists are bringing together classical, jazz, and pop influences, Byron's attempt surely ranks as one of the most personal and least calculating. ~ David R. Adler

Jazz - Released January 1, 1999 | Blue Note Records

With Romance With the Unseen, Don Byron decides to not focus on a particular musical style, as he has done for most of his albums. Instead, he chooses to craft an album of songs that live up to the record's title; these are songs that feel romantic, but aren't love songs. Like most of Byron's albums, there's an abundance of technique and emotion, yet each track feels distinctly different from the others, while managing to form a cohesive whole. The most impressive thing about Romance With the Unseen is that, while it takes chances (how could it not, with Bill Frisell, Jack deJohnette, and Drew Gress forming Byron's backing band?), it never sounds inaccessible. It's a shining example of mainstream jazz at its best -- stimulating, provocative, and entertaining, all at once. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Jazz - Released October 11, 1996 | Nonesuch

Bug Music is a tribute to the music of the Raymond Scott Quintette, the John Kirby Sextet and Duke Ellington, headed by the remarkably versatile clarinetist Don Byron. Raymond Scott's legendary compositions feature eccentric song titles (including, on this set, "Siberian Sleighride," "Tobacco Auctioneer" and "War Dance for Wooden Indians"), complex and thoroughly composed arrangements (all of which were originally memorized rather than being written out) and unique melodies. Kirby's brand of swing, which is quite complementary to Scott's novelties, often utilized themes from classical music and had solos, but were also tightly arranged (even "St. Louis Blues" and "Royal Garden Blues"). The CD begins and ends with four Ellington/Strayhorn pieces that fit well into the idiom (particularly "The Dicty Glide" and "Cotton Club Stomp"). In addition to Byron, the key players on the project include altoist Steve Wilson (one of the best of the younger swing stylists), trombonist Craig Harris and pianist Uri Caine, in addition to four other horns and several rhythm sections. Other than a silly rendition of Ellington's "Blue Bubbles" and an adventurous interpretation of "Snibor," the selections are played with respect and great understanding of the somewhat forgotten style. None of the modern musicians sound as if swing were only their second language, making the continually surprising set a major success. ~ Scott Yanow

Jazz - Released January 1, 2006 | Blue Note Records

Anybody interested in Don Byron gets his range, and his willingness to try almost anything that tickles his fancy, whether it be klezmer, swing, funk, out jazz, blues or funky soul. He explores and leaves his mark on something and moves on. From Music for Six Musicians and Tuskegee Experiments to Nu Blaxploitation and Bug Music, from Fine Line: Arias and Lieder and Plays the Music of Mickey Katz to Ivey-Divey, Byron has explored -- not usually reverently -- his inspirations and curiosities with mixed results, but it's the investigation that counts for him in the first place. Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker is a curious outing in that Walker didn't always write his own material, but he wrote enough of it (five cuts on this set) and, like Byron, put an indelible stamp on anything he took on, from singing to blowing the saxophone. Byron assembled a dream band for this offering that includes guitarist David Gilmore, B-3 organist George Colligan, drummer Rodney Jones and bassist Brad Jones as the core group. The guests who augment the proceedings are Curtis Fowlkes, Chris Thomas King and Dean Bowman. Is the music reverent? Nope; but it's totally recognizable as Walker's. Byron doesn't set out to re-create anything exactly. His concern is for that thing he can't put his finger on, and discovering the place where the magic happens. But this is no academic set of Walker tunes, it's funky, it swings, and the grooves are deep and wide. Walker was a killer vocalist and Byron enlisted bluesman King on four cuts (he plays guitar on a pair as well) and Bowman. The set begins on a late-night smoky groove with "Cleo's Mood," the B-3 carries it in with Gilmore's guitar playing in the gaps before the tune's melody slithers to the fore with Byron and Bowman, and from here it's the blues as read through post-bop, soul-jazz, and the ghost of Leon Thomas through Bowman's vocal solo that sounds right at home here. Byron is in the pocket with this band. They aren't reaching for margins, but exploring how much was in Walker's music to begin with, there are traces of many things in the tune, and Byron finds them all. Digging into the classic "Shotgun," King's vocal delivery on the title track struts and steps to Byron's clarinet floating in the boundaries as Colligan's B-3 and Gilmore's meaty guitar heighten the groove to the breaking point. On "Shotgun," Byron plays it close to home and King's vocal is brilliant. This, like the title cut, is a dance tune on par with James Brown's; the lyrics are particularly compelling for the times we live in. Walker acknowledged the influence James Brown had on him readily and on "There It Is," both Bowman and King pump themselves to front this band that is so greasy and nasty one would never know that this is Byron's group. This joint burns the house down, baby! While there isn't a dud in the set, other big standouts include "Satan's Blues," "Pucker Up, Buttercup," and the ballad "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love.)" Here the bass clarinet is distracting for a moment, but transposing the opening saxophone part and letting King and Gilmore play sweet and slow lays a fine ground for both the hypnotic B-3 chart and King's lonesome vocal. Byron uses clipped, right phrasing with the airiness of his horn, solos around the fringes of the tune, and brings it back inside and underscores the fact that this is a soul tune. King's vocal could have been a bit tougher and leaner, but that's a really small complaint. Ending the set on Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Roadrunner" takes it out on a honking high point. Byron's done justice not only to Walker here, but to his Muse and to the grand tradition of funky jazz records on Blue Note -- hopefully they'll get it in the A&R department and bring the groove back wholesale. This baby is a smoking slab of greasy soul with a jazzman's sense of adventure. ~ Thom Jurek

Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Blue Note Records

Jazz clarinetist Don Byron likes to focus on specific musical styles. He's released albums filled with Latin jazz (Six Musicians), the klezmer music of Mickey Katz (Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz), and the repertory works of Duke Ellington, John Kirby, and Raymond Scott (Bug Music). Now for his sixth solo release, Nu Blaxploitation, Byron offers up a musical evocation of '70s funk, including a nod to hip-hop by way of a Biz Markie guest spot. The poet Sadiq is prominently featured, recalling his fine performance on Byron's debut, Tuskeegee Experiments, with ruminations on Princess Diana's vilified boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed ("Dodi") and Haitian immigrant Abner Louima's brutal interrogation by N.Y.C. police ("Blinky"), among other topics. Byron mirrors Sadiq's wide-ranging commentary via some somber, chamber jazz arrangements and a bevy of funky, swinging charts, bolstering the overall mix with fine renditions of songs by '70s Latin-funk group Mandrill ("Mango Meat," "Fencewalk," "Hagalo"). Other highlights include the humorous and intelligent discussions of black life heard on "Domino Theories, Parts 1 & 2" and an inventive cover of Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9." The disc is topped off with stellar performances by both Byron and Existential Dred band members pianist/organist Uri Caine, drummer Ben Wittman, and bassist Reggie Washington. Highly recommended. ~ Stephen Cook

Contemporary Jazz - Released October 19, 2018 | Intakt Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2004 | Blue Note Records

Clarinetist Don Byron once again mixes post-bop, swing, and funk into a unique concoction on Ivey-Divey. Just like Bug Music wasn't necessarily '30s swing and A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder wasn't exactly a classical album, Ivey-Divey isn't truly a straight-ahead, mainstream jazz album, although purists and avant-garde fans alike should find much common ground here. To these ends, Byron gets humorously rambunctious and a little "out" on such tracks as the swinging "I've Found a New Baby," the reverent and bluesy "Himm (For Our Lord and Kirk Franklin)," and the funky downtown jam "'Leopold, Leopold...'." Backing Byron here are the always adventurous talents of pianist Jason Moran, drummer Jack DeJohnette, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. ~ Matt Collar

Jazz - Released September 13, 2005 | Nonesuch

Like its 2001 sequel, this 1995 outing delves heavily into Latin rhythms and boasts ambitious, well-wrought compositions, not to mention extraordinary playing -- particularly from the unsung pianist Edsel Gomez and Byron himself, on both bass and B flat clarinets. The sextet also features Graham Haynes on cornet, Kenny Davis on electric bass, Jerry Gonzalez on congas, and Ben Wittman on drums. Four special guests appear (guitarist Bill Frisell, bassists Lonnie Plaxico and Andy Gonzalez, drummer Ralph Peterson), although the where-and-when particulars aren't spelled out on the disc packaging. Byron is clearly preoccupied with race politics here; most of his titles mention headline grabbers of the 1990s, from Shelby Steele, Clarence Thomas, and Ross Perot to Rodney King and Al Sharpton. The poet Sadiq begins the album with a reading of his tendentious "White History Month," which Byron sets against a winding clarinet chorale, "'Uh-Oh, Chango!'" Ultimately, however, the politics are more of an undercurrent than a central theme. Hip grooves and raucous interplay prevail, although Byron sets a more contemplative tone with "SEX/WORK (Clarence/Anita)," which has the flavor of a classical theme. Byron furthers the classical allusion with a virtuosic, unaccompanied reading of Manuel Ponce's "La Estrellita" and a fabulous duet with Edsel Gomez, "The Allure of Entanglement." ~ David R. Adler

Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | Blue Note Records


Jazz - Released September 13, 2005 | Nonesuch

Clarinetist Don Byron immediately became famous in the jazz world after the release of his debut CD as a leader. The strong themes (all but a melody apiece from Robert Schumann and Duke Ellington are originals), the advanced yet logical improvising, and the often-dramatic music make this a particularly memorable set. Byron, doubling on clarinet and bass clarinet, is heard in settings ranging from an unaccompanied solo and duets with bassist Reggie Workman and pianist Joe Berkovitz to medium-size groups with such sidemen as guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Ralph Peterson Jr., pianist Edsel Gomez, and others. Although several songs involve justifiable social protest (including the title cut, which has a poem by Sadiq), the music also stands alone outside of the issues. Highly recommended. ~ Scott Yanow

Jazz - Released September 13, 2005 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

No one recognized the manic possibilities of klezmer more than clarinetist Mickey Katz, whose 1945-1947 tenure with Spike Jones spawned a comedy band that launched such funny travesties as the Yiddish cowpoke ditty "Haim Afen Range" or the Jewish-Hawaiian "Mechaye War Chant." Katz used humor to expand the musical boundaries of klezmer, thrusting it into the laps of World War II mainstream America at a time when Yiddish was identified as a victim's language and most Jewish music looked backward in time because the post-Holocaust present was intolerable. Playing Katz's songs demands prodigious chops, hence the attraction of Katz to molecule-splitting clarinetist Don Byron, who demonstrates nerve presenting Katz the monologist as the equal of Katz the composer. In sum, convoluted, kaleidoscopic silliness topped with Byron's usual dazzling self. ~ Bob Tarte