Don Byron

Music for Six Musicians

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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."

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