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Nu Blaxploitation (1998)

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David Gilmore

Jazz clarinetist Don Byron likes to focus on specific musical styles. He's released albums filled with Latin jazz (Six Musicians), the klezmer music of Mickey Katz (Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz), and the repertory works of Duke Ellington, John Kirby, and Raymond Scott (Bug Music). Now for his sixth solo release, Nu Blaxploitation, Byron offers up a musical evocation of '70s funk, including a nod to hip-hop by way of a Biz Markie guest spot. The poet Sadiq is prominently featured, recalling his fine performance on Byron's debut, Tuskeegee Experiments, with ruminations on Princess Diana's vilified boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed ("Dodi") and Haitian immigrant Abner Louima's brutal interrogation by N.Y.C. police ("Blinky"), among other topics. Byron mirrors Sadiq's wide-ranging commentary via some somber, chamber jazz arrangements and a bevy of funky, swinging charts, bolstering the overall mix with fine renditions of songs by '70s Latin-funk group Mandrill ("Mango Meat," "Fencewalk," "Hagalo"). Other highlights include the humorous and intelligent discussions of black life heard on "Domino Theories, Parts 1 & 2" and an inventive cover of Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9." The disc is topped off with stellar performances by both Byron and Existential Dred band members pianist/organist Uri Caine, drummer Ben Wittman, and bassist Reggie Washington. Highly recommended. ~ Stephen Cook