Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker – Don Byron
Blue Note 09463410920
Don Byron has worn many hats in his musical career. On his own albums and with others, the jazz artist has delved into Broadway and film scores, klezmer, funk, Swing, Afro-Caribbean grooves and much more. On Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker he and his band tackle the R&B dance material of the 60s instrumental hit maker. Walker was one of those rare R&B musicians who became a star without following the smooth style regulated at Motown. While his modern day profile may not be as prominent as some of his former label mates, a track such as “Shotgun” drips brilliant funk in any era.
Of course, the purpose of Boomerang isn’t to mimic but to recreate. On the opening number, “Cleo’s Mood,” the groove gets an added twist from vocalist Dean Bowman who merges the language of scat to the fields of Africa. Under Byron’s direction the songs contain more swing than the gutbucket funk created by Walker. “Ain’t That The Truth” suffers because of this approach. Byron’s tenor sax playing thrills but the polish and cleanliness of the recording subdues its potent groove. At the end things get interesting as the musicians turn the piece inside out, which is something I thought would occur more often — more twists and turns within the arrangements and moods.
By the title track, it seems as if the players have warmed up to the material with “Mark Anthony Speaks” finding solid footing. A single foray away from Walker finds the group playing James Brown’s “There It Is,” a nice simmering funk workout. The latter half of the album maintains the energetic flow, particularly “Pucker Up Buttercup,” which causes Byron and company (including guest Chris Thomas King) to wind their way towards making a good impression. Now that “Do the Boomerang” has shed much-deserved light on Walker, I’m sure Byron wouldn’t mind a little encouragement to those reading this to check out the original. Here’s to hoping for an updated re-issue of Walker’s material so that others may discover his music.