Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet

The Middle Picture
Fire House 12 Records FH12-04-01-002

Taylor Ho Bynum/Tomas Fujiwara
True Events
482 Music 482-1052

Moving past the apprenticeship stage – most notably as a member of Anthony Braxton’s and Cecil Taylor’s different ensembles – Brooklyn-based cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum creates two CDs which showcase his steadily maturing talents.

While The Middle Picture, with his working sextet, gives him more textural colors with which to work – sometimes too many, in fact – this duo, True Events, with drummer Tomas Fujiwara – who is also in the sextet – demonstrates how the inventive brass man operates in a more concise situation.

Running through a series of original tunes on the first CD – including one each from Miles Davis and Duke Ellington – Bynum is more likely to use the cornet’s tartest timbres to explore taut tonguing and this-side-of-dissonant trills; though the horn’s sensitive side isn’t neglected. Even on pieces like “3v2”, the note-scooping and growls expressed by fellow cornetist Rex Stewart for Ellington is on display.

Successively playing Barney Bigard (clarinet), Harry Carney (bass clarinet) and Paul Gonsalves (tenor saxophone) to Bynum’s Stewart is Matt Bauder, who also leads his own bands. However Fujiwara, who is a cast member of the musical Stomp, and guitarist Evan O’Reilly – especially the later – owe allegiance to rock as well as jazz. Both have played with the cornetist since high school. Guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist and electric bassist Jessica Pavone are similarly eclectic. They work as an avant-folk duo and in Braxton’s bands with Bynum.

Both guitarists strut – and contrast – their styles on “JP & the Boston Suburbs: Parts 1&2”, which evolves from an atmospheric nocturne to a staccatissimo romp. Intricate finger-style soloing at the top bounces off Fujiwara’s offbeat, double paradiddles and thumping snares, while Bynum tones stay graceful and whispering, then Bauder introduces spetrofluctuation, tongue stops, honks and rubato slurs. An abrupt electric bass line mid-way through introduces signal processed string crunching from the guitarists, which ring and resonate until a diminuendo finale from the horns in double counterpoint brings things to a close.

Pavone’s baroque-style fiddling and – likely – Halvorson’s acoustic-style licks are showcase on “3v2”, with the piece eventually accelerating to polyphonic advances from plunger cornet lines, reed-biting timbres from the saxophone, plus drags and pops from the drummer.

Bynum’s group arrangements sometimes reflect Braxton’s Ghost Trance writing. As a soloist, however, he isn’t adverse to extended trimbral examination with mouthpiece kisses, squealing trills and back-of-throat braying. But that’s just one part of his identity as he demonstrates on the two cover tunes. On “In a Silent Way”, the Davis-Joe Zawinul theme is elaborated with serpentine and sluicing action from muted Bynum, as Bauder provides chalumeau counter lines, Pavone splays chunka-chunka tones from her bass and Fujiwara limns a shuffle beat.

Conversely, the lyrical expression implicit in Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Bluebird of Delhi” is expressed andante throughout by gentling grace notes from Bynum’s muted cornet, vibrated reed bites from Bauder. The tune also features a low-key conclusion, with only one guitarist – O’Reilly [?] – detonating high-energy, frenzied strokes.

The two trio tracks with Bynum, Halvorson and Fujiwara are sparser than the other pieces and sometimes adumbrate the contrapuntal sounds on True Events. With each repetition, tremolo and riffs are as common as grace notes and glissandi The trio swaps solo and accompaniment, rhythm and melody roles among themselves. Most notable is a section on “Apace”, where before a passage of unalloyed silence, it appears as if the brass man’s pedal point slurs evolve at half the speed of the ringing guitar vamps.

On their own, Bynum and Fujiwara range over nine improvisations in about 43 minutes. A few are far too short – in the one-minute or two-minute range – and only leave an aural residue of Hispanic-tinged, rhythmic clip-clops plus broken time from one partner and grace note curvatures, glissandi or buzzing, bugle-like variations from the other.

Weighing in from the other direction is the almost-14½ minute “The Emperor of Ice Cream”. Not unlike the trio tracks with Halvorson on the other CD, the strategy here is for the two to ratchet from fortissimo to pianissimo pitches and from highly dissonant to near-legit textures. Bynum begins with miniscule sound shards squeezed past the mouthpiece and subsequently vibrated deep in the throat cavity, as Fujiwara formulates an agitato and staccatissimo pace on the cymbals. As the cornetist continues with broken-octave vocalized cries and pops that include bitten-off tones and chirping textures, the drummer counters with distracted rolls, cymbal pops and repeated drags. With Bynum ululating notes up and down dead centre, repeated ruffs finally bring forth short bellows from his horn. The final variation however displays veloce note clusters, ascending sluices and a conclusive flurry of grace notes.

Evidentially Bynum’s brass interface involves much more than high-pitched barks, tongue trills and stop-time-slurs on these pieces. Even without the standard themes provides by the Ellington and Davis lines on the other CD, Bynum’s pitch-sliding often leads him into introspective territory. In fact at one point, it may be the head from “I Could Have Danced All Night” that appears on a bed of chromatic notes. Plunger tone-mining isn’t neglected either. Meanwhile on Fujiwara’s part, there are displays of cymbal shuffling, an extended intermezzo of snare coloration, ratamacues and rumbles, fire-cracker-like pops and resonating staccato ruffs,

Bynum plus five and Bynum plus one are showcased on either CD. It’s up to the listener to decide how he or she wants to investigate the resourceful cornetist’s music.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: Middle: 1. Brooklyn with an E 2. Woods 3. In a Silent Way 4. mm(pf) 5. Bluebird of Delhi 6. 3v2 JP & the Boston Suburbs: 7. Parts 1&2 8. Part 3 (aka Knit & Swim) 9. Apace

Personnel: Middle: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Mary Halvorson and Evan O’Reilly (guitars); Jessica Pavone (viola and electric bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums)

Track Listing: True: 1.Wisdom 2.The Upset 3.Five Miniatures (Ficciones) 4. Ship 5. The Leaning Reflection 6.Akickitaround 7.Biloxi/Ikuru 8. The Emperor of Ice Cream 9.Wisdom (Reprise)

Personnel: True: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums)