inet gospel, but on a national scale, Byron has made the clarinet a jazz instrument again -- and a hip one at that.
Fifteen years ago, Byron visited Lawrence as the clarinetist in the Klezmer Conservatory Band, the only clarinet sanctuary left on the planet. Now, with Arias, Byron finds the often-surprising music that releases the instrument's natural voice. He asks the rhetorical question "Is there an aria greater than Roy Orbison's 'It's Over'?" then blurts out an emphatic no, redoing the song with Mark Ledford's Roy-loyal vocals and a creamy bass clarinet center. Byron's arias range from a version of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" (from Turandot) to a clarinet vamp on Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'," and the lieder include Schumann's "Zwielicht (Twilight)," the Four Tops classic "Reach Out I'll Be There" and Byron's own mysterious, troubled "Basquiat."
This could have been one esoteric musician's indulgence, and when Byron shifts his horn away from center stage, it does get a bit stale; not even Cassandra Wilson can rescue Sondheim's "The Ladies Who Lunch." However, taken as a whole, A Fine Line does wonders for the image of a long-lost reed.