David Bindman Ensemble

Sunset Park Polyphony
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A significant statement from saxophonist David Bindman, Sunset Park Polyphony musically reflects both parts of its title. A New Yorker with a master’s degree in World Music, Bindman has spent much of his career blending the time sense of non-Western music with the harmonies and improvisationary freedom of Jazz. At the same time the two-CD set aims to reflect not only the sounds of Sunset Park, his polyglot neighborhood in Brooklyn, but also in the disc-length “Landings Suite”, translate into sound the experiences of a young person who experiencing injustice decides to work for the common good.

While Bindman, who composed the 12 selection, and the other musicians here are able to personify many of the dimensions and perceptions suggested by these ideas, the polyphonic sounds on the disc stand up on their own as music. Knowing which sociological concept birthed a musical idea or which particular African or Indian music time sequence is being used doesn’t really affect the listener one way or another.

It’s not surprising that there’s such a developed social conscience on this set however. Bindman, for instance, who plays tenor and soprano saxophones here, has a long association in the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet with baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, American improvised music’s most politically radical musician. Furthermore bassist Wes Brown and drummer royal hartigan are also long-time associates of Ho, besides sharing an interest in ethnic musics with the saxophonist. Pianist Art Hirahara brings an intense sensibility to Ho’s projects and does so on this session too, outputting modal chords and echoing patterns without losing sight of the Jazz background. Meantime the Bindman Ensemble’s newest members, who in painterly fashion add more kinetic and melodic harmonies to the composer’s horn writing, are trumpeter Frank London, co-leader of The Hasidic New Wave, who also works in other Jazz and Klezmer projects, and trombonist Reut Regev, who has worked in Latin band as well as with Anthony Braxton’s Ensemble.

Probably the most programmatic of the selections on the first CD is the title track, whose atmospheric improvisations evolve alongside Karnatic beats. At points hartigan sounds as if he’s playing a tabla or khanjira while adding added cymbal claps. Meanwhile Brown’s thumping bass line and Bindman’s intense tenor saxophone shading are well within the tradition of Charles Mingus’ suite writing. Hirahara’s staccato key clipping and rolling glissandi keeps the piece animated, with London’s and Regev’s muted plunger work providing the proper vamps to wrap up the multicolored strands.

The “Landings Suite” which takes up the entire second CD is even more notable in its melding of Third World rhythms and First World improvisation. Given 44 minutes and eight variations in which to express himself, Bindman’s inner Gil Evans appears. Many of the arrangements create connective harmonies resulting from the wash of sonic colors that arises from counterpoint among three horns and three rhythm instruments. Concurrently the pieces use absolute textures or the suggestions of Karnatic and African sound-cycles to give added heft to their solos. Happily though, they avoid any attempt at musical anthropology.

A solo from the pianist owes more to Harold Mabern or any prototypical freebopper than an emulation of a string instrumentalist from the sub continent; while the drummer’s beats relate as much to the advances in Jazz percussion over the century as to the rhythms produced by traditional drummers in Ghana or Togo. Bass and drum call-and-response duets, expressed on tracks like “Invisible Dance” for instance, mate string arpeggios and percussion clatter with tandem, cacophonous brass triplets and irregular vibrations from the saxophone. Elsewhere, “The Transient” adds a Latinesque beat which vibrates energetically alongside Brown’s thumping strings and introduces a high-intensity exposition from Regev that includes sliding glissandi and quick tonguing. There’s even faint fralicher phrasing in London’s solo on “Singing Bird Melody”.

Eventually the suite reaches a climax with the balanced narrative on “Recurring Dream”. Described as relating to two different dreams, the composition introduces a tinge of Reggae to the exposition for the first time, while Bindman’s and Hirahara’s high-frequency contributions are light enough to float above the now-focused beats. Before the tune is summed up with clanking cymbals and press rolls from hartigan, London’s hand-muted brays have defined themselves at different elevations from the other horns’ tones for a satisfying conclusion.

As an earnest CD from a mature artist Sunset Park Polyphony impresses with its professionalism and invention. But Bindman should have more faith in his music to not burden it with extensive ethnic sound explanations or an unnecessary programmatic emphasis.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Shape One 2. Long Line Home 3. Sunset Park Polyphony 4. Robeson House Echoes CD2: Landing Suite: 1. The Transient 2. Singing Bird Melody 3. Icarus Flies Towards the Sun and Returns 4. Invisible Dance 5. Singing Bird Reprise 6. Recurring Dream 7. Unspoken 8. RH Reprise

Personnel: Frank London (trumpet and flugelhorn); Reut Regev (trombone); David Bindman (tenor and soprano saxophones); Art Hirahara (piano); Wes Brown (bass) and royal hartigan (drums)