Love, Peace, and Soul

Don Byron / Don Byron New Gospel Quintet

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Love, Peace, and Soul Review

by Thom Jurek

Don Byron's catalog reveals him to be a musical chameleon and master conceptualist. The range of music he's had fun melding with jazz -- Raymond Scott's, Mickey Katz's -- classical arias and lieder, Blaxploitation funk and more -- is expansive. It should come as no surprise then, that Love, Peace and Soul is an album of (mostly) classic gospel tunes, primarily written by Thomas A. Dorsey. It was Dorsey who kept the blues and ring-shout lineages inherent in gospel as it evolved, and revolutionized the music in the process. The other inspiration here is master guitarist and vocalist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. While she played primarily sacred music drenched in jazz and blues, she moved effortlessly between it and secular tunes. Byron's New Gospel Quintet are D.K. Dyson on vocals, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer Pheeroan akLaff, with guest appearances by guitarists Brandon Ross and Vernon Reid, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, vocalist Dean Bowman, and baritone saxophonist J.D. Parran. Byron’s clarinet and akLaff's tom-toms introduce "Highway to Heaven," adding the spirit of Sidney Bechet's and Louis Armstrong's New Orleans jazz to Dorsey's blues before Dyson cuts loose on the vocals; Jones' funky bassline makes the entire thing pop. The spirit of improvisation on this set is alive and well too, as evidenced by "When I've Sung My Last Song," the very next cut. Byron's clarinet and Dyson's vocal play on and around the melody before the band enters, and while Dyson moves more toward the straighter end of the lyric, akLaff creates a slippery sense of time and establishes a jazz groove, and Davis' piano solo solidifies it. Given the feel of the album's first three sacred numbers, the juxtaposition of Eddie Harris' funky party anthem "Sham Time" feels right at home. Even the more reverential numbers, such as Dorsey's "Take My Hand Precious Lord" (introduced by a beautiful duet between Byron's saxophone and Dyson's vocal) carry blues into melodic jazz improvisation. Charles Tindley's "Beam of Heaven" is drenched in early blues, from Jones' bumping bassline, Byron's swooping clarinet, akLaff's shuffling kit, and Ross' acoustic slide guitar. Dyson's vocal is simply sublime. In Dorsey's “I’ve Got to Live the Life I Sing About," the hard blues in Tharpe's example underscore the message in the lyric. Love, Peace and Soul is another successful Byron experiment, but it's more than that. While its grooves are not a vision of gospel music since Dorsey, the music points to possibilities for the future that, like Dorsey's and Tharpe's examples, never lose sight of the blues.

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