Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet

Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths
hatOLOGY 675

Making the transition from featured sideman to band leader, Brooklyn-based cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum is beginning to preserve the unique sound(s) of his group(s) on record. The (s)s are deliberate, because unlike the fabled jazz combs of the 1950s and 1960s, many of his bands are ad-hoc groupings organized for a specific date or recording project.

Yet as this notable live session indicates, Bynum, who has always been cognizant of career-building, has managed to lure a steady group of up-and-coming players as his first call seconds. The band on Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths is the same one with which he has been gigging since 2005, while he and most of the other members also interact in outside situations, including different Anthony Braxton ensembles. That likely explains the emphatic cooperation among the conetist, his Braxton band pal, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, with whom Bynum has recorded in a duo formation. The additional players – violist Jessica Pavone, who takes another chair in Braxton groups, reedist Matt Bauder, on call for New York and Chicago gigs, and guitarist Evan O’Reilly – add their talents to the three-part “whYeXpliCitieS”, the CD’s centrepiece.

Dedicated to Braxton and composed as a suite of modular inter-locking parts for various sized sub-ensembles, the description of “whYeXpliCitieS”, appears more forbidding than it sounds on CD. The initial variant concerns itself with contrasts between electric and acoustic instruments, as Halvorson’s fuzz-tone distortion builds into a wall of quivering oscillations. Meanwhile Pavone’s splintered and staccato lines carve their own space, as the cornetist releases plunger tones and the bass clarinet burbles in sympathy. Fujiwara’s low-key jangling and solid drags stay the course until rasgueado guitar licks push the theme onto the next track. With the guitar and brass operating in counterpoint, theme elaborations speed up and slow down the tune, despite interlocking vamps from Bauer, which adumbrate the next section with honks and striated note interpolations. Attaining climax in the composition’s third – and lengthiest –section, more guitar legerdemain is on show – probably from both plectrumists. One clinks Scruggs banjo-like runs, while the other could be playing a primitive hurdy-gurdy or a Hawaiian slack-key guitar. On top of these antipodal string clicks, Bynum showcases suction release with only his mouthpiece, then from deep inside his valves gradually constricts his output to strangled cries and horn shakes. As Bauder plays an obbligato of distinct note clusters, finale and fulfillment come with tough, downward slurred fingering from the guitar.

Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths’ first and final tracks show off Bynum’s skills playing unaccompanied, with stylistic tropes that range from Bronx cheers to bubbling lip spews and held notes. Besides “whYeXpliCitieS”, the most memorable track is “Look Below”. Dedicated to brass trombonist Bill Lowe – another influence on Bynum’s career, the short track is all bright and brassy. Encompassing open-horn expression, as well as altissimo squeaks and tongue-busters from the horns, it’s summed up traditionally enough with a shout chorus following a Fujiwara solo which makes prominent use of the bass drum.

Continuing to prove himself as an accomplished soloist, composer and band leader, Bynum’s future seems as assured as that of any contemporary improviser.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Open 2. Look Below 3. whYeXpliCitieS (Part I) 4. whYeXpliCitieS (Part II) 5. whYeXpliCitieS (Part III) 6. Geoffstown 7. Close

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