Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet

Apparent Distance
Firehouse 12 Records FH12

Jason Kao Hwang/Edge

Crossroads Unseen

Euonymus Records EU 02

Brass man Taylor Ho Bynum and bassist Ken Filiano are the constants in these noteworthy sessions designed to offer glimpses into the improvisational and compositional cores of a clutch of innovating musicians. Anti-establishment without being nihilists, the eight players represented validate the concept of moving forward sonically while preserving parts of the past.

The most obvious tradition linkages are that Bynum’s sextet on Apparent Distance is organized to play his four-part chamber suite. Crossroads Unseen meantime features six compositions by leader Jason Kao Hwang that make ample use of the qualities he can wring out of European music’s most venerable instruments – the violin and the viola. Hwang has worked with experimenters such as bassist William Parker and drummer Vladimir Tarasov. Filiano has become a constant New York presence after an apprenticeship with reedist Vinny Golia. Percussionist Andrew Drury is a composer in his own right, while Bynum has a long association with Anthony Braxton. This CD is the quartet’s third as Edge.

On the other disc, Bynum’s associates includes drummer Tomas Fujiwara, with whom he has often worked in duo and trio; saxophonist Jim Hobbs, who employed him in the reedist’s Fully Celebrated Orchestra; guitarist Mary Halvorson another Braxton associate; and tubaist/bass trombonist Bill Lowe, a veteran player who worked with Henry Threadgill. Overall Apparent Distance deals with abstract concepts in a formal chamber setting, probably appropriate for a work that benefitted from grants from two foundations. Hwang’s hang is more organic and swinging.

With suite transitions on Apparent Distance based on bravura tone extensions from each player, the sequences move from non-figurative motifs that tax the limits of the instruments to sections that meld the players in linear cooperation. During the three section that surround “Source”, the nearly 21 minute defining movement, remarkable sounds are repeatedly created either solo – sometimes a capella – or by instrumental layering. Bynum’s triplet-laden excursions, brass braying or sucked mouthpiece slurs appear even more impressive when coupled with speedy tongue jujitsu from Lowe’s tuba or contrasted with a military-style beat from Fujiwara. Hobbs’ distanced, irregular reed bites meet slurred fingering from Halvorson with with an overlay of distorted picks and plinks. When the processional rhythm and clapping cymbals from the percussionist adjoin the guitarist’s downward strums and note distortion, the effect is that of a psychedelic guitarist filling a seat in a military band.

Although by the narrative’s finale the sextet’s output has quieted down to pointed chromaticism, “Source” and Bynum’s composition as a whole are designed to give everyone freedom of expression. During the exposition walking bass and legato guitar lines soon give way to staccato string snaps and discursive curlicue thumps as the flugelhornist exhibits slippery half-valve effects that throw into bolder relief a cleanly articulated bass trombone solo. Just as agitated split tones and nasal vibratos threaten to undermine the theme, busy brushwork from Fujiwara introduces a swinging pulse that leads conclusively to the final sequence of cymbal resonation and drags.

Swings the thing on Crossroads Unseen, but it flows organically from the writing not as some lumbering recreation. Almost from the first notes, Hwang’s double stopping polytonal stops and staccato plucks put him firmly in the tradition that stretches from Stuff Smith to Billy Bang. Meanwhile Bynum provides a plunger obbligato and Drury’s kit pressure is unique enough in pitch and timbre to suggest he’s playing a cuica. On “The Path around the House” the bassist carves his route by outlining a multi-string stopped, Mingusian solo that ends with magisterial strums and following some triplet tonguing from Bynum and a this-side-of-Buddy-Rich solo from Drury introduces the fiddler’s angled string jumps and plucked polyrhythms.

Bulkier stops and chunkier scrubs characterize Hwang`s playing when he switches to the lower-pitched viola for the final two tracks. Still his technical finesse is as supple as before. Ending “One Day” and the entire CD is a concluding sequence divided between weighty pumps from Filiano and the friction produced by mixing cross tones from Hwang with hand-muted growls from Bynum’s cornet. But as unexpected motifs such as Drury’s gong-like cymbal resonations hover in-and-out of the earshot, the composer manages to impart some romantic motifs as the others combine thematic harmonies.

Concerned with diverse goals, both Hwang and Bynum have created exhilarating sessions which impress in wholly atypical ways despite an overlap of personnel.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Apparent: Apparent Distance 1. Part I: Shift 2. Part II: Strike 3. Part III: Source 4. Part IV: Layer

Personnel: Apparent: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Bill Lowe (bass trombone and tuba); Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone); Mary Halvorson (guitar); Ken Filiano (bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums)

Track Listing: Crossroads: 1. Elemental Determination^# 2. The Path around the House^# 3. Transients*# 4. Crossroads Unseen*% 5. One Day*%

Personnel: Crossroads: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet* and flugelhorn^); Jason Kao Hwang (violin# and viola%); Ken Filiano (bass) and Andrew Drury (percussion)