Fortune rarely offers us the opportunity to watch dozens of middle-aged yuppies boogying down to soul hits like “Shotgun” and “Do the Boomerang” in their sensible shoes, especially at 10 p.m. on a Monday night. Yet, all bets were off when jazz clarinetist Don Byron descended on Yoshi’s last Monday with his new funk group, which formed in 2005 as a tribute to Motown legend Junior Walker. Byron says he formed the group as an homage to the R&B horn sections that formed a soundtrack for his childhood. In order to properly capture the spirit of Junior Walker, the bandleader traded in his clarinet for a brassy tenor sax.
Clapping hands and saying “yeah” throughout, the audience members ramped up their frenetic, birdlike gestures whenever Hammond B-3 organist George Colligan took the spotlight. Colligan, who supposedly moonlights as a trumpeter, took the old standards that Byron revisits on his latest album, Do the Boomerang (named for Walker’s 1965 #10 R&B hit) and completely wrecked them. Coupled with singer Dean Bowman, whose primal ooh-loo-loos and unctuous falsetto brought the dancers to a state of evident bliss (represented in movements that looked like they were designed to colonize as much space as possible), Colligan brought the house down. But for a couple exceptionally funky drum fills (albeit with a closed high hat) from Will Calhoun, his solos were by far the zenith of Byron’s performance. This fact was not lost on Byron, who seemed to be in the habit of cutting his organist off a few bars early — and not without a hint of schadenfreude.