Since his studies and performances with new music and improvisational pioneer Anthony Braxton, hornist/composer Taylor Ho Bynum has assumed many musical hats amid his incredibly all-embracing vernacular. Whether it's avant chamber-jazz, large scale orchestra fare or variable ensemble groupings, his ascent towards the upper echelon of today's forward-thinking artists cannot be understated. Bynum's ability to seamlessly merge distinct genres or thought processes into a singular identity is often astonishing. Sure enough, Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths drives these aspects home in rather salient fashion.
Bynum covers so much ground on this album it could easily serve as fodder for musicians and educators to cherry pick segments and deconstruct Bynum's methodologies. It's unnecessary to expound upon the technicalities; however, the slightly unusual instrumentation yields a polytonal set of interconnects that gracefully align to form the totality of the program. Interestingly enough, Bynum opens and closes the session with gruff cornet drones via a free-form manner of expressionism during his solo jaunts aptly titled "Open" and "Close." Yet in the middle lies a layered panorama of peppy free-bop motifs and animated voicings, largely set forth with a loose groove demeanor and additional metrics that straddle numerous styles.
The dual guitar attack of Mary Halvorsen and Evan O'Reilly often provides an open-air sensibility, teeming with complementary contrasts and whirlwind type exchanges. Moreover, the ensemble morphs its structure between a relaxed display of strength and hip, cross-genre motivations that might be akin to envisioning a musical histogram, complete with dips and spikes.
They touch upon modern jazz-psychedelia in spots, via the guitarists' chunky rock chords. And they venture into free-chamber terrain, complete with the soloists cat 'n mouse exchanges on part two of the five-part composition dedicated to Braxton, "whYeXpliCitieS." Here and throughout, Bynum's wondrous imaginative powers inject maze-like imagery, where various motifs are designed with geometrical shapes and numerous passageways. Part five of "whYeXpliCitieS" finds the musicians delving into folk jazz environs, thanks to violist Jessica Pavone's single-note plucking maneuvers that sound like a banjo. A brilliant workout indeed, due to Bynum and saxophonist Matt Bauder's endearing melody lines that segue into a hyper-mode progressive jazz theme, dappled with subtle breakdowns and bizarre treatments.
The album will certainly stand as one of the more compelling musical statements of 2008, regardless of genre classification. Bynum's an idea-man who knows how to engineer his cutting-edge frameworks into tangible theme-building endeavors which offer a contrapuntal viewpoint to the improvisation quotient. It's a regeneration process that makes a whole lot of sense. More importantly, his music goes against the grain, especially when considering the hordes of new music or free-jazz product that sound more like fragments of strong ideas stitched together, but lacking qualitative substance. There's no white noise type filler material on this near flawlessly performed gala. It's one that will undoubtedly withstand the sands of time.
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Matt Bauder: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Jessica Pavone: viola; Mary Halvorson: electric guitar; Evan O'Reilly: electric guitar; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.