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Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker (2006)

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David Gilmore

Anybody interested in Don Byron gets his range, and his willingness to try almost anything that tickles his fancy, whether it be klezmer, swing, funk, out jazz, blues or funky soul. He explores and leaves his mark on something and moves on. From Music for Six Musicians and Tuskegee Experiments to Nu Blaxploitation and Bug Music, from Fine Line: Arias and Lieder and Plays the Music of Mickey Katz to Ivey-Divey, Byron has explored -- not usually reverently -- his inspirations and curiosities with mixed results, but it's the investigation that counts for him in the first place. Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker is a curious outing in that Walker didn't always write his own material, but he wrote enough of it (five cuts on this set) and, like Byron, put an indelible stamp on anything he took on, from singing to blowing the saxophone. Byron assembled a dream band for this offering that includes guitarist David Gilmore, B-3 organist George Colligan, drummer Rodney Jones and bassist Brad Jones as the core group. The guests who augment the proceedings are Curtis Fowlkes, Chris Thomas King and Dean Bowman. Is the music reverent? Nope; but it's totally recognizable as Walker's. Byron doesn't set out to re-create anything exactly. His concern is for that thing he can't put his finger on, and discovering the place where the magic happens. But this is no academic set of Walker tunes, it's funky, it swings, and the grooves are deep and wide. Walker was a killer vocalist and Byron enlisted bluesman King on four cuts (he plays guitar on a pair as well) and Bowman. The set begins on a late-night smoky groove with "Cleo's Mood," the B-3 carries it in with Gilmore's guitar playing in the gaps before the tune's melody slithers to the fore with Byron and Bowman, and from here it's the blues as read through post-bop, soul-jazz, and the ghost of Leon Thomas through Bowman's vocal solo that sounds right at home here. Byron is in the pocket with this band. They aren't reaching for margins, but exploring how much was in Walker's music to begin with, there are traces of many things in the tune, and Byron finds them all. Digging into the classic "Shotgun," King's vocal delivery on the title track struts and steps to Byron's clarinet floating in the boundaries as Colligan's B-3 and Gilmore's meaty guitar heighten the groove to the breaking point. On "Shotgun," Byron plays it close to home and King's vocal is brilliant. This, like the title cut, is a dance tune on par with James Brown's; the lyrics are particularly compelling for the times we live in. Walker acknowledged the influence James Brown had on him readily and on "There It Is," both Bowman and King pump themselves to front this band that is so greasy and nasty one would never know that this is Byron's group. This joint burns the house down, baby! While there isn't a dud in the set, other big standouts include "Satan's Blues," "Pucker Up, Buttercup," and the ballad "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love.)" Here the bass clarinet is distracting for a moment, but transposing the opening saxophone part and letting King and Gilmore play sweet and slow lays a fine ground for both the hypnotic B-3 chart and King's lonesome vocal. Byron uses clipped, right phrasing with the airiness of his horn, solos around the fringes of the tune, and brings it back inside and underscores the fact that this is a soul tune. King's vocal could have been a bit tougher and leaner, but that's a really small complaint. Ending the set on Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Roadrunner" takes it out on a honking high point. Byron's done justice not only to Walker here, but to his Muse and to the grand tradition of funky jazz records on Blue Note -- hopefully they'll get it in the A&R department and bring the groove back wholesale. This baby is a smoking slab of greasy soul with a jazzman's sense of adventure. ~ Thom Jurek