July 16, 2001
SONG, NEWTON & BYNUM
Trio Ex Nihilo
Buzz ZZ 76014
More commonly thought of as a place where creative improvisers come from — step forward Charlie Mariano, Roy Haynes, Harry Carney and Ken Vandermark — the Boston-Cambridge, Mass. axis has in recent years developed an impressive, experimental scene of its own.
Nurtured by tenured researchers such as reedist Joe Maneri and pianist Ran Blake who teach at area institutions like the New England Conservatory of Music, the style is — to be simplistic — characterized by a concentration on micro-tones; a fascination with unusual techniques and welcomes European, Asian and other influences.
Each trio member here fits that profile. Cellist Jeff Song, who founded the Boston version of the Asian American Jazz Festival, has played bass guitar with chanteuse Ute Lemper and interfaced with a clutch of creative improvisers including cellist Matt Turner, kotoist Miya Masaoka and trombonist George Lewis. A former Anthony Braxton sideman, brassman Taylor Ho Bynum has also worked with the Fully Celebrated and the Aardvark orchestras. On call for many of reedist Vandermark's non-Chicago projects, drummer Curt Newton has also recorded with high-profile locals like guitarist Joe Morris and KONK.
Those leaders' names and the combo's instrumentation should suggest that the trio, whose Latin name translates as "creation from chaos" is more interested in intriguing movement than hackneyed neo-con certified swing. That doesn't mean that there isn't movement in these pieces, though. In fact, it sometimes seems as if Song and Newton never take a break, so ready are they to color the compositions with percussion highlights or string interludes.
Thus, it's often up to the brassman and his collection of axes to supply the lyricism here. Sticking in the main to mid-tempo excursions and frequently muted, Bynum still makes it perfectly clear — as many more traditional young players don't — that a cup mute doesn't necessarily force you to play Miles Davis-emulating ballads.
On "Feng Shui Nightmare", for example, the trumpeter's protracted, cushioning plunger tones are matched by Song stroking his instrument like a guitar and Newton caressing parts of his kit like his lover's skin. When the "nightmare" arrives though, the tones vanish deep into Bynum's throat, the bowed cello creates disconsolate lines, while drum accents build in intensity. Or listen how the three play hide and seek with the notes on "Blister Pack", when at one point the vibrations from Newton's drumstick on a cymbal movement creates a third songlike line.
Then there's "Ex Nihilo" the almost title track where the Oriental nuances later elaborated on "Folk Song #8" first come to the fore. Suggested by Song's plucked cello, the interlude serves as a leitmotif to transform Bynum's soft trumpet cushion into an extended outing into harsh, plunger territory. Later on, Song proves that he has the "legit" technique to sound all four strings at once the same way he can turn the smaller instrument into a "walking" cello. Characteristically Newton's talent is such that you don't even notice the drums until you realize that like a stagecoach driver with a team of horses, his percussion forays have been astutely steering from the rear.
Want to experience the best of 21st century Boston improv? You can't go far wrong with this disc.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing 1. Ex Nihilo 2. The Back Of My Mind 3. Scurrilous 4. Schwa 5. Turning The Wheel 6. Feng Shui Nightmare 7. Folk Song #8 8. Blister Pack 9. All Ways Are Up
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum (trumpet, pocket trumpet, trumpbone, flugelhorn); Jeff Song (cello); Curt Newton (drums)