David Binney is one of the few player/composers whose work is almost immediately recognizable: he has a personal approach, yet it ranges far and wide across musical styles. Paradoxically, Cities And Desire has as many differences with Binney's last release, Out Of Airplanes (Mythology, 2006), as similarities, and yet both are quite distinctly David Binney. Some phrases or instrumentation here might remind some listeners of South (ACT, 2001).
This thread, the Binney style, has something to do with the freedom to pull in pop and rock influences and yet remain swinging jazz. The unison reeds (here supplied by Mark Turner on tenor) seem to be a trademark, but perhaps the thing that can be most easily defined is the floating manner of his melodies and playing. Binney is very free, yet his music can have a strong pulse. He glides over whatever bar lines there might be and yet he can lock into the rhythm whenever he wants to.
The true modern jazz player is a living contradiction: they can be completely free on the one hand and yet respond instantaneously to what is happening around them as the other players, themselves also free, creating a feedback loop that shifts as different players take the momentary lead. Binney is one of the masters of this kind of jazz, and the band he has assembled features that kind of players, honing their instincts by playing a lot with each other over the years and this music at the 55 Bar in New York City, where Binney has an ongoing gig.
The tracks on Cities And Desire flow into one another to produce an organic work that breathes and has an dramatic arch, but each one has a story line of its own. These stories are ostensibly the musical refractions of the physical cities in the title and the emotional meaning they have for Binney. However, the connections between the music and the city only became clear in retrospect (and through the liner notes).
For instance, during the "Intro To Toronto," Dan Weiss, a true, deep student of tabla, plays solo for four minutes, producing a feeling of disjuncture. He stays on tabla for the beginning of "Toronto" proper before switching to drums after about three minutes, but the bass feel and Craig Taborn's piano solo are anything but Indian. However, the liner notes mention that Toronto has a large Indian population, and listening with that knowledge, the track does begin to sound Indian, but filtered through Binney's prism. Weiss manages to inject a tabla feel on the drums, and the insistent bass pedal further adds to the Indian feel, while Binney's solo, accompanied only by bass and drums, has the ecstatic quality of Indian music before it settles back down.
Extremely passionate, Cities And Desire raised the hair on my neck as it progressed, and being within Binney's world for 75 minutes as the music just happens can be spellbinding.
Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Dan Weiss: drums, tabla, vocal.