While altoist David Binney has demonstrated growth with each album he's released since emerging in the late 1980s, Out of Airplanes makes the biggest leaps yet, combining detailed composition with a looser improvisational approach that has evolved over the past couple of years. Electronics also make this the most texturally rich record of Binney's career.
Binney's distinctive compositional style is intact, but he makes numerous departures on Out of Airplanes. Traditionally drawing on a New York-based cadre of players, including bassist Scott Colley, guitarist Adam Rogers, drummer Brian Blade and pianist Edward Simon, this recording capitalizes on relatively new relationships with guitarist Bill Frisell, keyboardist Craig Taborn, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Kenny Wollesen. And for a change of scenery, Binney ventured out of Brooklyn's Systems Two Recording Studios for the first time to record in Seattle. Sometimes you need to shake everything up to effect greater change.
Other than one track on South (ACT, 2001), this is the first album to feature free improvisation as part of the picture. "Brainstorms Pt 1" and "Pt 2" revolve around repetitive patterns from Wollesen and Opsvik that might be hypnotic if Binney, Frisell and Taborn's abstract contributions weren't so jagged. In contrast, "Bring Your Dream" is a moodier ambient piece. Frisell's sparse guitar lines spread across the entire aural landscape, while Taborn's insectile textures and Binney's long-toned multiphonics expand the sonics and provide a sense of shape.
Binney's "Instant Distance" is a curious tone poem that builds from near-nothingness to dramatic power, with Binney and Taborn doubling ever-shifting four-note phrases over Wollesen's maelstrom-like kit work. Frisell ultimately takes over Binney's spot, leaving Binney free to layer his own long tones that effectively complement Opsvik's spare bottom end.
Outside his collaborative records with Edward Simon, this is also Binney's first album in years to share writing duties. Opsvik's "Jan Mayen" is based on a simple concept, but it builds relentlessly from delicate spaciousness to denser drama, featuring Binney's most evocative and delineated solo of the set.
"Contributors" is classic Binneyan odd-metered left-hand piano line and drum pattern providing the basis for mathematically precise layering of guitar, saxophone, bass and keyboards. No part stands alone, and together they build a compelling house of cards. The title track also begins with repeated arpeggios, creating a hypnotic foundation for Binney's elliptical theme. But the tune's attractive melodism soon breaks down into a textural free middle section, its strong anthemic finale gradually emerging out of the chaos.
Utilizing the studio as a compositional tool, Out of Airplanes incorporates considerable post-production editing, making it reproducible live, but given the improvisational aspect, considerably different in complexion and form. Bearing the strongest narrative arc of any Binney record to date, this disc may bring in a wealth of new concepts, but with his unmistakable signature, it remains completely in context with his growing body of work.
Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone; Bill Frisell: guitar; Craig Taborn: piano, organ, synthesizer;
Eivind Opsvik: acoustic and electric basses, glockenspiel; Kenny Wollesen: drums, percussion;
Adam Rogers: additional guitars (4, 6).