Reconvening the same core quartet as on Afinidad (Red, 2001), altoist David Binney and pianist Edward Simon demonstrate how a collaborative effort can bear the distinct imprint of each musician while, at the same time, possessing its own indelible stamp.
Binney and Simon have emerged, over the past decade, as leaders in an evolving musical context informed by broader cultural concerns, often complex harmonic and rhythmic foundations, and a fresh thematic approach that's eminently lyrical yet steadfastly avoids the obvious. Both are fine soloists, able to combine a sense of the cerebral with deeper emotional resonance. Teamed with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, Océanos is a compellingly listenable album, despite some considerable challenges hidden underneath the covers.
Binney's "We Dream Oceans" opens the disc with simmering intensity. Percussionist Pernell Saturnino augments Blade's delicate touch, while guitarist Adam Rogers and Binney double a theme that first stands alone but is ultimately countered by Luciana Souza's wordless vocals. Simon builds a lithely focused solo that gradually intensifies, leading to a recapitulation of the theme and a solo from Binney that's as much about the sound of the notes as the notes themselves, building to a fever pitch only to fade to a gentler coda.
While there's plenty of solo space, Océanos is as much about composition and arrangement, with Binney and Simon making judicious use of the added guests. Binney's polyrhythmic and Latin-esque "El Parrandero" makes full use of the three-piece horn section, creating a sound that's at times sharply pointed, other times richly expansive, contrasting with "We Dream Oceans" where the horns are used only briefly to reinforce the tune's final figure.
Simon's 9/4 "Impossible Question" is first heard in expanded form, with Rogers' acoustic guitar solo navigating the pianist's changes with ease and Blade delivering a short but energetic solo. Binney's most powerful improvisation of the set is heard on a later reprise; a shorter but more texturally lush version that's expanded to include the horn section and percussion.
Binney's closer, "Home," begins with a poignant theme that unfolds gradually but keeps returning to the same four-chord pattern. Colley and Simon both deliver lyrical solos before returning to the theme, leading into a repetition of that same four-chord pattern as a foundation for Binney's final solo which, bolstered by the rest of the group, builds the "Home" to a powerful climax before ending on an etheral note.
Continuing to collaborate periodically over the years acts as a yardstick of both individual growth and a shared aesthetic for Binney and Simon. Océanos is their best pairing yetan album that brings together two strong musical minds to create a whole that's truly greater than the sum of its parts.