The reed-player and jazz composer/interpreter Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet routinely raises roofs and brings audiences almost involuntarily to their feet. Vocalist D. K. Dyson can be as smoldering and subtle as she wants to be, but when she gets worked up and possessed, the stage literally cannot contain her. Some of the most poignant and unusual moments of the concert that I saw, in fact, came when the reserved and stolid Byron gently implored Dyson to keep a lid on it and save some for later. Well, no one can tame the wild streak of the Holy Spirit, but when it is Don Byron talking, I suppose that the Holy Spirit at least listens.
This is a rousing band of stone-cold virtuosi: Byron, the brilliant pianist Xavier Davis and the almost impossibly free and grooving rhythm section of bassist Brad Jones and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. Their commitment to the ecstatic aims of gospel music is so utter and genuine that you will almost forget that you are in the presence, and under the spell, of one the most important and ambitious figures in 20th/21st-century avant-garde jazz.
This has always been the paradox of Don Byron, the ardent envelope-pusher whose career has proceeded in a series of deeply committed, even reverent genre appropriations and studies, beginning with the fusion of klezmer and modern jazz that brought him to national attention, moving through episodes of funk, eccentric swing, serious Minimalism and (surprisingly little) free-jazz skronk. With the New Gospel Quintet as with the klezmer record of long ago, there is no jokey referentiality to any of Byron’s style conquests. Byron confers seriousness and the harmonic depth of jazz upon the genres that he studies and masters. The genres, in turn, render Byron’s catalogue one of the most listenable and joyous in all of serious and cerebral jazz.
Don Byron and the New Gospel Quintet cap off Byron’s stint as the Larry Berk artist-in-residence at SUNY-Ulster with a performance on Saturday, April 12. The New Gospel Quintet has a way not only of exciting audience but also of transforming venues into places of worship with their shows. This one is not to be missed.
Don Byron & the New Gospel Quintet, Saturday April 12, 7 p.m., free, Quimby Theater, SUNY-Ulster, 491 Cottekill Road, Stone Ridge; https://apps.sunyulster.edu/announcements/1674.