One of the most flexible musicians on the jazz scene is clarinetist/composer Don Byron. Byron has, as a leader and accompanist, performed and recorded in bebop, klezmer, avant/free-jazz, hip-hop and large-group-'30s-swing contexts, and he invests each with singular flair. (No Dilettante, he.) A FINE LINE features his exploration of various aspects of the "song form"-European classical art-song, Broadway/Tin Pan Alley songcraft and 1960s Top Forty. With "Glitter And Be Gay" (music by Leonard Bernstein), you are transported to a sultry night in a European café where an elegant, operatic diva gets to cut-loose with some jazz players-somber and stately, then suddenly (ZOOM!), you're whisked to a New Orleans jazz club, where a driving rhythm section dances with the diva. (Lincoln Center meets Tipitina's!)
Roy Orbison's "It's Over" features the reflective, Bryan Ferry-like croon of Mark Ledford, and Stephen Sondheim's tart, scornful "Ladies Who Lunch" gets a dusky late-night reading from Cassandra Wilson. The Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There" gets a wistful exploration by means of Byron's understated yet soulful bass clarinet. Throughout, Byron and company play with first-class musicianship and exceptional tastefulness. These guys draw attention to The Song, not themselves. Eclecticism, humor, angst, sarcasm, commitment, rare elan--how can you go wrong?