Riffin’ with Don Byron, king of the clarinet and preacher of jazz’s New Gospel

Let’s be honest: You getting tired of all these jazz projects that claim to combine bop with some distant musical genre, and just end up feeling forced? Jazz and baroque music, jazz and Norweigian folk, jazz and gamelan. Don Byron deserves part of the blame for it. But wait, hear us out here.

Sometimes doing a thing stupendously well can lead to a lot of lesser-than acolytes. Maybe that’s what happened with him. See, Byron was ahead of the curve in the early 1990s, when he started to meld his loves for jazz and klezmer music. Since then he’s made high-concept, high-quality music that finds fresh perspectives on the Black experience — from 1998’s Nu Blaxploitation album, a funk-and-hip-hop mashup featuring his Experimental Dred band, to his latest project, the New Gospel Quintet. That’s the band he will bring to the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Saturday night.

And before the show, you’ll have a chance to pick apart Byron’s vast palette of influences and ideas at the latest installment of Riffin’: CapitalBop Listening Sessions at the Atlas. Here’s how it works: At 7 p.m., Byron will sit down with CapitalBop’s Luke Stewart to watch videos of performances from some of his biggest influences. It’s all meant to spark an open conversation — not a lecture or a panel discussion — between you, the audience, and Byron. Entry is free.

After the 7 p.m. session, Byron will perform with his New Gospel Quintet, a band that bounces and grooves with the positivity and straight-to-your-heart conviction of an evangelist. Byron’s interplay with the vocalist Carla Cook is something to marvel at. Tickets to the performance will be available at the session, or you can pick them up online for a discount.

Schedule of the remaining Riffin’ sessions:

Saturday’s Riffin’ session with Don Byron at the Atlas Performing Arts Center begins at 7 p.m., and entry is free. Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet performs at 8 p.m. Tickets to the concert cost $28.50 in advance, or $33.50 at the door, and can be purchased here. More information is available here.



About Giovanni Russonello

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A co-founder of CapitalBop, Giovanni Russonello is also a music writer and critic for the New York Times. He also teaches writing as a lecturer at New York University's School of Professional Studies. He previously served as a contributor to the Washington Post, the FADER, JazzTimes, NPR Music and others, and hosted “On the Margin,” a books show on WPFW-FM. He graduated from Tufts University with a bachelor’s degree in history, with a focus on African-American history. Reach Giovanni at [email protected]. Read him at giovannirussonello.com or nytimes.com/by/giovanni-russonello. Follow him on Twitter at @giorussonello.

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