Illegal Crowns

Illegal Crowns
RogueArt ROG-0066

Taylor Ho Bynum

Enter the Plustet

Firehouse 12 FH 12-04-01-025

Quietly and without excessive fanfare, Connecticut-based cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum has become one of this century’s most accomplished composers, improvisers, orchestrators and band leaders. Like a fighter who excels in whatever weight classes he trains for, Bynum has not only been involved in the macro sense, as one assistant conductor of some of Anthony Braxton’s major creations, but also in micro situations, where he manages to convey the breath of his ideas performing solo or in ensembles as small as duos, usually with drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

Like a split screen capture of the same picture with wildly altered colors, Enter the Plustet and Illegal Crowns outline Bynum’s diverse skills, while illustrating the cohesive concepts that hold both works together. Recorded in mid-2014, Illegal Crowns is one of the trans-Atlantic quartets in which the cornetist is involved – the Convergence Quartet with British and Canadian players is another. Here though Bynum, Fujiwara and another long-time associate, guitarist Mary Halvorson, initiated a new quartet with French pianist Benoît Delbecq, who is in a variety of bands himself and satisfied, quickly recorded the results. Each of the participants contributed compositions. The other side of a Janus face, Enter the Plustet was created more than a year-and-one-half later, when the three Americans joined 12 of Bynum’s other associates to animate three of his longer compositions. Unlike the serendipity factor involved in the French date, all of the Plustet’s members have a long or short-time affiliation with Bynum, confidently taking their place as character actors in his dramas to produce creative distinction.

On the French CD, the usual division is among the chordal instruments used to compliment one another’s forays as they work through thematic variations, Bynum on cornet or flugelhorn advances the narrative and with the guitarist and pianist on either side of him, and Fujiwara providing subtle clatter, crunches and clanks which knit the strands into varied patches of a quilt. Even when the drummer takes an extended solo on his own “Wry Flowers”, the splashes and rattles displayed are literally no more percussive than what the pianist and guitarist create. One of those tunes that changes from butterfly to caterpillar, Delbecq’s impressionistic chording on “Wry Flowers” posits a balladic exposition, only to have that shattered by slurred fingering and tonal distortion from Halvorson. High-pitched squeals and the pianist turning to a more rugged hunt-and-peck fashion almost dissolve the performance into sound shards. But like amoebae bonding, the head reappears from Bynum who also intensifies the groove. On other tunes such as Bynum’s “Thoby’s Sister”, the pianist and guitarist work out duo variations with trebly strums and keyboard strides. In contrast, the Halvorson-composed titles track serves as a reminder that the curve of a melody driven by off-centre, seemingly detuned guitar clunks, can be can be straightened out and become chromatic by using brass plunger tones and vibrating keyboard patterns. All and all, “Solar Mail”, the guitarist’s other composition may be the CD’s defining track. Like a jerry-built structure that miraculously stands despite its construction from unexpected materials, cascading keyboard jumps, flutter-tongued brass variations and hard guitar twangs don’t mask the expressive swing that eventually harmonized different parts into a basic theme.

As distant from the other band as a business conference is from a coffee klatch, Enter the Plustet still engenders the same type of improvisational freedom as expressed by the quartet. With more than a baker’s dozen of musicians available to solo, like a wise primary school teacher Bynum tries to involve as many as possible without compromising his thematic material. A solid melody that evolves from menacing to graceful, and the shortest track, which is still more than 10½-minutes long, “That Which Only ... Never Before” is marked by triple stopping from cellist Tomeka Reid and flutter-tonguing from alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, but is mostly expanded upon by its composer, Filled with Ellington-styled voicings though dedicated to James Jabbo Ware’s orchestra, “Three (for Me We & Them)” ends up balancing on cadences as constant as Big Ben’s tolling, resulting from Fujiwara’s sophisticated percussion measures. Highlights include Vincent Chancey’s euphonic French horn trading licks with both brassy stutters from Bill Lowe’s tuba and saxophonist Matt Bauder’s abstract cries. Distorted flanges from Halvorson up the excitement quotient as the horns scurry after he like cartoon baddies trying to sneak up on the heroine. Ultimately the descending delicacy of Jay Hoggard’s vibraphone key spanks provides the climatic pressure-release.

Lengthiest – at more than 21 minutes – and most flamboyant of the tunes is “Sleeping Giant” which ambitiously bows to Rock sounds à la Prince, Braxton’s conduction concepts and local Connecticut hiking trails. Moving among harmonized Rock-like riffs, steady Swing and more dissonant allusions, Bynum like master-of-ceremonies, presents every member of his troupe in individual show pieces. Some like fiddler Jason Kao Hwang’s staccato slices and trombonist Steve Swell’s savage gutbucket allusions are more memorable than others' work however. By the mid-point Bynum has created a sequence that’s equally informed by Braxton, Charles Ives’ celebration of Yankee nostalgia and John Phillip Sousa marches. Slurping grace notes from the trumpet section interrupt the resulting massed polyphony, until like contestants in a spelling bee, other soloist enter, play and exist swiftly, leading to a finale that is tough, ambulatory and consistent with the original concept.

With large bands or smaller ones, playing, arranging and composing, Bynum confirms his many skills on these CDs.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Enter: 1. Sleeping Giant 2. Three (for Me We & Them) 3. That Which Only ... Never Before.

Personnel: Enter: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Nate Wooley, Stephanie Richards (trumpet); Steve Swell (trombone); Bill Lowe (bass trombone, tuba); Vincent Chancey (French horn); Ingrid Laubrock (soprano, tenor saxophones); Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone); Matt Bauder (tenor, baritone saxophones) Mary Halvorson (guitar); Jay Hoggard (vibraphone); Jason Kao Hwang (violin, viola); Tomeka Reid (cello); Ken Filiano (bass); Tomas Fujiwara (drums)

Track Listing: Illegal: 1. Colle & Acrylique 2. Thoby’s Sister 3. Illegal Crown 4. Holograms 5. Solar Mail 6.Wry Tulips

Personnel: Illegal: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet and flugelhorn); Benoît Delbecq (piano and prepared piano); Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums)