LIVE: Don Byron Quartet @ A Place for Jazz, 11/3/17
Review by Prof. Teddy Clements, Ret.
Photographs by Albert Brooks
Don Byron writes tunes about cartoon characters: a boppish riff last Friday at A Place for Jazz in Schenectady honored Joe Btfsplk from Lil’ Abner. He even yodeled a Hank Williams weeper. He and his dynamic quartet – Kris Davis, piano; Cameron Brown, bass; Bruce Cox, drums – post-bopped their hyper-skilled way through jazz history, from 1960 to some time tomorrow.
A professor (once at UAlbany, now in Denver) as much as composer and performing artist, Byron had lots to teach but did so playfully. He showed us that squeaking on the clarinet and deep tenor sax whomps are OK if they don’t dent the feel, that Hank Williams was linked to the widely discredited but also OK minstrel tradition and, most of all, that improvising unifies talent at the highest level to tug listeners deep into the sound.
Compositions often played with expectations, but nothing felt lightweight because the skill level was over the (full) moon. Even Bert Kaempfert’s Muzak-bouncy “That Happy Feeling” (Byron called it “nerdy”) packed heft and swing. Best of all were under-construction songs, soundtrack for a film portraying Lorraine Hansberry, with all the drama and poetry of her best writing. Wryly quoting classics during his own tunes – “Body and Soul,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “In a Mellow Tone” whizzed playfully by – Byron and band brought A Place for Jazz’s fall season to a rousing, inspiring close.
Susan Brink’s review and photos at Saratoga Living