I’m listening to Don Byron’s album Ivey-Divey, which I picked up from the SF Public Library earlier this week. I’m a bit of a Byron enthusiast, so I tend to view everything the man touches as gold. Part of this is from seeing him at Yoshi’s back when they had student tickets and let people stay from the 8pm set to the 10pm set if the latter hadn’t sold out (Yoshi’s has since become lame and student-unfriendly). Byron’s approach to albums is often that of a curator — works like Bug Music and The Music of Mickey Katz are examinations of eras or genres of music. The former is early Ellington, Raymond Scott, and John Kirby, and is a real delight. The latter is a jazzy klezmer variety act. Other albums take genres and deconstruct them a bit, like This is #6 or (arguably) Nu Blaxploitation. The album Romance With The Unseen is a little more straightahead but features a jaw droppingly beautiful version of the Beatles’ I’ll Follow The Sun with Bill Frisell on guitar.
Ivey-Divey takes a look at a recording session with Lester Young, Nat King Cole, and Buddy Rich. The bass-less combo has a charm and sound all its own (I’ve only heard the original once, but now it looks like I’ll have to buy it). Byron isn’t “doing Lester Young” on this album, however. He places those tunes next to some originals and classic Miles Davis. He has a killer combo — Jack DeJohnette on drums and the monstrously talented (and young) Jason Moran. Better players you couldn’t ask for, and when the chemistry is on and the soloists are quoting each other’s licks you know something’s happening.
It’s easy to complain that the album is stylistically disjointed. You have to remember that Byron is not only the best clarinet player alive, he’s one of those great curators who juxtaposes with intent. So you get a funky tune like “Leopold, Leopold” (you have to know your Bugs Bunny) followed by a Freddy Freeloader that starts out with just the clarinet, singing to itself before being joined by a Monk-like plunkety-plunk and light high-hat taps and slowly working itself into a lumber like Leopold and then flying off somewhere else with Moran’s hypnotic solo.
I can’t believe I didn’t listen to this album until know. What else have I missed out on?