Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Don Byron: Tuskegee Experiments.
It's Black History Month at HurdAudio. Tonight's music of celebration is 1991's Tuskegee Experiments by clarinetist Don Byron.
This is, in my opinion, one of the great jazz records of the last twenty years. Byron is a master improviser with exquisite taste and Tuskegee Experiments oozes with intelligence and verve.
"Waltz for Ellen" opens this disc as an unaccompanied clarinet solo before launching into "Tuskegee Strutter's Ball" as a swinging work for full ensemble. Bill Frisell's guitar tone is unmistakably present as is the great bass work of Reggie Workman. Byron's clarinet weaves silky lines along the sonic texture as the piece closes out. "In Memoriam: Uncle Dan" then follows as a duet for bass and bass clarinet.
Each piece on this disc is so different from all the others and yet there isn't a weak track. Byron mixes ensembles, styles and even covers "Mainstem" by Duke Ellington and "Auf einer Burg" by Robert Schumann. Each amply rewards the attentive ear and keeps the mind engaged with the details lurking within these arrangements.
"Tuskegee Experiments" is perhaps the most memorable track on here given the outrage of the subject matter being covered by Sadiq's incredible poetry. Text and music exist as equal partners here as the ensemble pours it on over the recounting of the disgusting injustice of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment that was carried out in Tuskegee, Alabama from 1932 to 1972. (I actually had to do a double take on that --40 YEARS!?!?!?! The mind reels at the scale such a prolonged crime). This piece is powerful.