Gianni Lenoci Hocus Pocus 4 + Taylor Ho Bynum

Empty Chair
Setola di Maiale SM 2440

The Convergence Quartet

Slow and Steady

NoBusiness NBCD 53

Book of Three

Continuum (2012)

Relative Pitch RPR 1012

Along with leading his own band(s) and serving as aide-de-camp for many of Anthony Braxton’s projects, peripatetic cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum somehow manages to find time to regularly gig with players on both sides of the Atlantic. Sympathetic to others’ ideas his presence manages to multiply the number of high quality sessions extant.

Take this trio of discs for instance. Book of Three is an all-American co-op group featuring the brass man, sophisticated bassist John Hébert and one of the most inventive contemporary drummers: Gerald Cleaver. Not to be surpassed with percussion smarts, the co-op Convergence Quartet is anchored by the talents of Canadian drummer Harris Eisenstadt. Besides Bynum, the other members are full-fledged and endlessly adaptable Brits: pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Dominic Lash. In contrast, the cornetist fills the empty chair as featured guest with Italian pianist Gianni Lenoci’s Hocus Pocus 4, with the other magicians saxophonist Vittorio Gallo, bassist Pasquale Gadaleta and drummer Giacomo Mongelli.

A summit meeting of equals, the Anglo-North American Convergence plays compositions from each band member and generally sees how advanced each musician can be in responses to the others’ input without neglecting Jazz’s basic pulse. Take a tune like Eisenstadt’s “Third Convergence” which is simultaneously introverted and extroverted. An atonal ballad at the top with cross-lyrical patterning from the pianist, Bynum soon perceptively alters the mood with graceful flutter tonguing and muted insouciance. “Remember Raoul/Piano Part Two”, that follows it and mashes up separate compositions from Bynum and Lash respectively, comes across as if it’s a 21st Century Miles Davis quartet piece, as Lash pumps his strings like Paul Chambers, Hawkins is as angularly minimalist as Red Garland and Eisenstadt becomes a restrained Philly Joe Jones. It’s the cornetist’s strategy of twisted grace notes and inside trumpet echoes that confirms that it’s 2013 not 1953 though.

Hébert is another powerful bassist and his interaction with Bynum and Cleaver helps make Book of Three’s second CD a notable disc as well. Stripping the performances down to its essentials, the trio ends up showcasing nuanced interludes within multi-tempo tunes. Conspicuously as well, as opposed to many musicians who insist on performing their own originals, Bynum, Hébert and Cleaver cover others’ compositions. But it’s a credit to their sophistication that those tunes aren’t everyday Jazz standards, but lines by their mentors or contemporaries: cornetist Bobby Bradford’s “Comin’ On”; saxophonist Jim Hobbs’ “Aware of Vacuity”; and “Jamila” by saxophonist Salim Washington.

A comparison of the first and the second provides a key to the band’s skills. Moderato and extended, “Comin’ On” relies primarily on Bynum’s spit-encrusted rubato attack to give it heft as Hébert’s straight-ahead bass lines and Cleaver’s subdued pops keep it rhythmically exciting. Relaxed, with a narrative that appears to jump from the West Coast to the Middle East, the second tune find the brass man and the bass man outputting harmonic lines in such proximity that they almost twin, while the drummer’s hand pumps and graceful emphasis furrows out the tune’s lyrical core. “Jamila” shows how a bright, mid-tempo ballad can be composed so that it sways not swings, until given last minute bass-and-drum percussion color.

However the key to the trio’s imaginative resourcefulness shines through on two group compositions. “Journal Squarer Complications” is Bynum’s atonal showcase, as low-key laughs and plunger explorations succeed trained brays while Hébert’s horizontal pumps hold the bottom. “Open City” could be a transformed field recording with the cornetist’s narrowed pan-flute-like peeps vying for space alongside the drummer’s practically Native American tom-tom hand percussion. Stentorian scrubs as well as beneath-the-bridge vibrations from the bassist maintain the thickened theme.

While “Open City” on Book of Three has the same title as Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 classic neo-realist film, it’s Empty Chair which finds Bynum as a guest with the quartet of Italians. The leader is Monopoli-based pianist Gianni Lenoci, who since his graduation from conservatory in the “open city” of Rome has worked with musicians such as French bassist Joëlle Léandre and Italian polymath reedist Carlo Actis Dato. Unlike Rossellini’s neo-realism, the pianist and his band score with a variety of musical tropes.

Striking creativity by all on every composition, mostly written by Lenoci, assures that there’s something unique happening all the time. The title tune for instance is a Steve Lacy-like stop-time exposition, with karate-chop like wallops from the horns and Lenoci’s swaying, kinetic keyboard lines. As his warp-speed note clusters intensify the program, Bynum’s soaring flutter tonguing and Gallo’s staccato tongue slaps and sick-bird cries add ever-shifting zeal.

On the other hand “Reverse”, another Lenoci line, could be a Classic Swing tune, but decorated with enough circularly attached, polished and contrapuntal notes to make the performance more interesting. Each of the passing piano chords brings forth comments from a brassy cornet and pinched reed, even as the pianist pilots the narrative forward with syncopated power surges. Mongelli’s snapping rolls, ruffs and drags intensity the exposition as does Gadaleta’s walking bass, until the climax arrives via subtle piano key clipping and slowing brass slurs and stops.

No matter what technical advances are sophisticatedly showcased, the arrangements are such that individual contributions are paramount. And with the most advanced chord construction on some tunes making perfect sense slapped up against others, and with all invested with inventive joyfulness, The Empty Chair likely wouldn’t face many empty chairs when performed in public.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Slow: 1. assemble/melancholy 2. Third Convergence 3. Remember Raoul/Piano Part Two 4. Equals/understand (totem) 5. Oat Roe + Three by Three 6. The Taff End 7. Slow and Steady

Personnel: Slow: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Alexander Hawkins (piano); Dominic Lash (bass) and Harris Eisenstadt (drums)

Track Listing: Book: 1. Comin’ On 2. Aware of Vacuity 3. Henry 4. Open City 5. Jamila 6. Journal Squarer Complications 7. Precoda/Henry (reprise)

Personnel: Book: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); John Hébert (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)

Track Listing: Empty: 1. Spell 2. Empty Chair 3. Reflective Darks 4. Turning Cucumbers 5. Raw0 6. Graduale 7. Sparrows 8. Reverse 9. Ombra10. Kretek 11. Rim

Personnel: Empty: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Vittorio Gallo (soprano saxophone); Gianni Lenoci (piano); Pasquale Gadaleta (bass) and Giacomo Mongelli (drums)