Clarinetist Don Byron – whose open-minded approach to jazz has taken him all over the map, from the politics of the Tuskegee experiments to the inner reaches of klezmer – has sometimes frustrated fans by generating more originality than heat. But on his latest effort, he leads a quartet (with Bill Frisell, guitar; Drew Gress, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums) back into the fold to stretch out. From the get-go, on Duke Ellington’s "A Mural from Two Perspectives," Byron glides over a spacious pocket laid down by Frisell basking in the chordal memory of guitar traffic controller Jim Hall’s work with Jimmy Giuffre and Sonny Rollins. This laid-back, airy feeling becomes a reference point for the set, as Lennon-McCartney’s "I’ll Follow the Sun" and Herbie Hancock’s "One Finger Snap" are taken to head-bobbing, finger-popping heaven, with the leader’s sideways-sliding, off-balance phrasing recalling Pee Wee Russell.
Byron’s own compositions find him in more various moods: from the lovely ballad, "Sad Twilight" (with Frisell’s elegantly weighted solo) to the romping "Bernhard Goetz, James Ramseur and Me" (the rhythm section letting all hell break loose under Byron and Frisell’s communions with spirits of improvisers past), to the instantly classic "Homegoing" (mysterioso Latin melody + funky speculative solos + superb rhythm work = what you crave). By set’s end, Byron turns tenderly elegiac on "Basquiat" (an homage to the late young lion of modern painting), outtamyway groovin’ on Juan Tizol’s "Perdido" and sonic-adventurous on "Closer to Home" (the second reference to where you live on this back-to-the-sources collection). All good.