-- Robert Levine
Railroad Jerk plays Wed, April 26, at Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.

Illusion of Safety
From Nothing to Less
(Complacency)

Emitting seriously enigmatic signals from Illinois(e) since 1983, Illusion of Safety is essentially an open-membership experimental collective revolving around one Dan Burke. IOS has amassed a sprawling body of work over the years, ranging from aggro to ambient to alien -- their "selected discography" ticks off 47 releases and comp contributions since 1986. This, the eighth IOS CD, documents two rehearsals and eight live performances by Burke and partner Thymme Jones in 1993. "NO SAMPLING OR SEQUENCING" crows the press release; what the duo do play is prepared autoharps, scraped metal, wine goblets and forks, walkie-talkies, shortwave radios, rubber masks, personal vibrators -- stuff like that.

Best abandon any preconceived notions of what a CD "should" sound like before venturing into this little forest of decom-positions, cuz as you've probably guessed, it provides over an hour of superscrewy sounds. Track one kicks off with a loud buzzing drone, which segues into audience noises (e.g., shuffling, coughing, laughing). From there on in, we're treated to distant banging and clanging, rhythmic pulses, quiet hums, loud crashes, unidentifiable electronics, footsteps, odd rolling noises, seven minutes of near-total silence and moments reminiscent of a busy day at the swingset factory. Equal parts old-school industrial screech 'n' scrape and a more modern ambient-noise aesthetic, Nothing isn't as compelling a listening experience as much of IOS' subtler studio work. Still, it serves up some cryptic tonal montages you won't hear every day. Well, at least not on CD.

-- Mike Rowell
Illusion of Safety plays Sun, April 30, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.

Don Byron
Music for Six Musicians
(Nonesuch)

Music for Six Musicians, the third release by Bronx-born composer/clarinetist Don Byron, stuns us again with Byron's incredible chops, deep feeling and soaring imagination. Though Tuskegee Experiments, his debut, throws Ellington and Schumann into the mix, and Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz pays tribute to the renowned klezmer artist, this Music is all Byron's own, with the exception of "La Estrellita" by Manuel Ponce. Byron combines poetry, politics, humor and music in a way seldom seen since Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um. You'll see it less in the opening words of lyricist Sadiq than in the cryptically evocative song titles: "Uh-Oh, Chango!/White History Month," "SEX/WORK (Clarence/Anita)," "Crowd Heights." Musically, a wild, cacophonous freedom is set against simple, thrilling lyricism. Everything from bebop to hard bop to free form is held together by well-conceived structures and blazing playing by the titular sextet -- Byron, pianist Edsel Gomez, percussionist Ben Wittman, conga player Jerry Gonzalez, cornetist Graham Haynes and bassist Kenny Davis. As soon as you think you have a handle on Byron, he breaks free with a Protean shift to, say, Latin rhythms, carnival marches, a North African mood or a quote from Charlie Parker. Grounded in virtuosity, this eclecticism is mesmerizing.

-- Ira Steingroot
Don Byron Quintet plays Wed-Sun, April 26-30, at Yoshi's Nitespot in Oakland; call (510) 652-9200.

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