Don Byron's fourth Blue Note album is a belated follow-up to 1995's Music for Six Musicians. Six musicians are once again featured here, but they're joined by a large number of guests, bringing the cumulative total to 20. As always, Byron looks to unlikely sources for inspiration, beginning with Henry Mancini's theme from the 1962 John Wayne flick Hatari. (The artist is a diligent student of Mancini's music in general.) The rest of the tracks are originals, save for "Shake 'Em Up," a calypso party song that features Don Byron, Sr. on bass and Designer on vocals. Byron emphasizes an Afro-Carribean vibe throughout, often setting up dense, harmonically ambiguous vamps for group interplay, as on "Klang," "B-Setting," the extended piece "Dark Room," and the fragmentary "You Are #6," the last of which is reprised later in the program as "You Are #6.5." By the time we get to "A Whisper in My Ear" the sonorities are a bit more consonant and familiar, though no less evocative. Pianist Edsel Gomez and trumpeter James Zollar turn in strong solos. This being Latin music, the percussionists also loom large; they are Milton Cardona and Ben Wittman, along with guests Johnny Almendra and Mauro Refosco. The clarinet/piano duet "No Whine," hauntingly beautiful but a bit out of place, recalls what Byron and Uri Caine did with Puccini and Schumann on 2000's A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder. There are also the requisite Byron-esque oddities, like "Dub-Ya," a 58-second taunt directed at President Bush the younger. Julie Patton's vocalizing toward the end of "B-Setting" is quirky in the extreme, yet strangely compelling, as is the sample of seemingly overheard conversation that interrupts and ends the title track. Here Byron evinces an interest in album programming as sound collage, in the manner of a hip-hop artist (compare 1998's Nu Blaxploitation). In this light, it's all the more fitting that he concludes the record with a DJ Spooky remix of the infectious bossa nova "Belmondo's Lip."
You Are #6: More Music for Six Musicians Review
by David R. Adler