Throughout his career, Byron Blaylock has found it hard to zero-in on any specific genre. While his earliest mixtapes earnestly demonstrated his beat-making and lo-fi aesthetic, he has since developed into a jazz and house-influenced would-be bandleader. His compositions may still be rushed and improvisational but Blaylock, under his moniker Byron The Aquarius, has found a style that suits his shortcomings.
Atlanta, Georgia may not seem like a hot bed for house or jazz but Blaylock has nevertheless surrounded himself with a slick group of backing musicians for his newest album Ambrosia. On nearly every track Blaylock is backed by Lil’ John Roberts on drums and Sheldon Ferguson on guitar, with great turns from trumpeter Dashill Smith, flautist Rasheeda Ali and Brazilian bassist Chocolat Costa throughout. Together with Blaylock on keys, the band develops an improvised, jazz-influenced form of house where no version is definitive or altogether compositional. Unlike much of his past work, this format imbues an energy and fluidity to Blaylock’s music, making even the longest tracks feel well earned instead of meandering.
“Edgewood Ave” proves a great signpost for Ambrosia, a demonstration of the girth of an individual track offering more exploration without seeming unnecessary. At almost nine minutes, the song is both funky and meditative, giving its musicians room to spread out around the central hook and knowing just how far to go before coming back to it. Unlike other tracks, “Edgewood Ave” may have been strong enough to avoid any extraneous mixes.
There are multiple versions of a lot of these tracks and it’s hard to determine which one would be considered “official”, but generally it seems that the first half of the album presents the layered instrumentals that Blaylock wants the listener to hear first while the second provides some slight alterations. For “Spirit of Juju” you get “Spirit of Juju – Instrumental”, for “New Beginning” there’s a piano mix, and highlight “Timeless” features not only a vocal mix, but a dub mix and an instrumental. At over an hour runtime, this may seem overzealous, but Blaylock does a great job of highlighting the differences and avoiding any monotony.
While the improvisational Ambrosia leans more heavily into jazz than any previous Byron The Aquarius album, Blaylock still evokes some slight house influences to keep up momentum. Most tracks keep it simple with just a few driving beats to highlight the instrumentals and maintain the feel of a Byron album and for the most part that’s all these songs need. On “Space & Time” for example, Blaylock’s production keeps the noodling piano and drum solo very danceable, and makes for one of the more fun tracks here.
Maybe the best demonstration of the difference in Blaylock’s work comes from “Timeless”. All three mixes feature some standout performances from Smith and Ali, showcasing their trumpet and flute playing more than any other track. While the vocal and instrumental mix feature one predictable difference, the “Alternative Dub Mix” slows the track down to a plodding bass strum and strips most of the production in favour of a loungy palate cleanser. While not as successful as the instrumental or vocal mix, all three help to divvy up the album and remain surprisingly refreshing, even on repeat listens. The diversity of “Timeless” exhibits a culmination of much of the work that came before it.
Byron Blaylock has been keeping busy for the last few years, not just maintaining a steady output of new releases but gradually growing and developing his sound. Whereas early Byron The Aquarius tracks were charmingly strewn together, his two releases this year Ambrosia and Apron have pushed both sides of Blaylock’s creativity forward significantly. The improvisational bandleader on Ambrosia might not be making music as distinct as some of his more house and hip hop-influenced work, but he does present a talented group of musicians working well together under a savvy producer.