Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings: Other Stories (Three Suites) (2005)
Trumpeter/composer Taylor Ho Bynum seems committed to defying those for whom music needs to be neatly compartmentalized. No surprise really, considering his association with renegade musical thinker Anthony Braxton, first coming into focus on Braxton's Composition No. 102 For Orchestra & Puppet Theater (Braxton House, 1996) and appearing with Braxton's sextet at the Musique Actuelle Festival in Victoriaville, Canada this past summer. Bynum may share Braxton's deep-rooted intellectualism and unconventional compositional processes, but his music reflects its roots more clearly than the work of Braxton, whose musical universe is so totally devoid of reference points as to be virtually unclassifiable.
Unlike his first two releasesAnd Only Life My Lush Lament (Satchmay, 1999) and Cente (Cadence Jazz, 2002), where he freely reinterpreted jazz standardsOther Stories focuses specifically on Bynum the composer. Here Bynum seamlessly blends improvisation with through-composition on three suites that couldn't be more different.
"Supo Eno clearly reflects lessons learned from Braxton, although simmering underneath the surface cacophony of "Part One is an uncharacteristic blue vibe. The approach will be clear to those familiar with composer Howard Shore's collaborative score with Ornette Coleman for Cronenberg's film Naked Lunch. But here, with Bynum's smaller nonet, there's more collective interplay than on Naked Lunch, where Coleman is the primary solo voice. "Part Two narrows its focus to the strings, feeling more like contemporary chamber music, while the lengthy "Part Three returns to improvisational extremes with vivid solos from cellist Tomas Ulrich and tubaist Joseph Daley. The lyricism of "Part Four," a cross between contemporary composer Gavin Bryars and Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim, comes as a surprise following the harder edge of what precedes it.
Part Four of "Supo Eno is a perfect segue to the brief three-part "The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley, taken from Bynum's score for Leigh Dane Jackson's film. Pared down to string quartet and guitar, Bynum is at his most melodic, with the gentle pizzicato of "Stuart's Theme leading into the pastoral "Small Mistakes, where Pete Fitzpatrick's guitar creates ambient effects beneath the strings. Bynum takes the lead on "Together, ending the suite on a delicate note.
"SpiderMonkey Stories, the most rhythm-centric suite of the disc, returns to an edgier landscape. While broken up with free soloing and moments of silence, Daley, Fitzpatrick, and drummer Luther Gray pepper Dakinis' Dance with a skewed rock rhythm that owes much to Captain Beefheart. "Chuck opens with a frenzied drum solo that resolves into another rock-based beat that becomes more jagged as Fitzpatrick changes to a dirtier distorted tone, and the rest of the ensemble follows suit with greater aggression.
The suite ends with the suitably-titled "Meditation, revolving around Jay Hoggard's vibraphone and a two-chord vamp that's gently supported by Gray and Daley. Bynum layers a spare melody over the gentle wash of strings, bringing an accessible close to Other Storiesan album that's sure to intrigue those unafraid to have their music travel to unexplored places and use less than conventional instrumental combinations to get there.
Track Listing: Supo Eno: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley: Stuart's Theme; Small Mistakes; Together; SpiderMonkey Stories: Dakinis' Dance; Chuck; Meditation.
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, compositions; Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Stephanie Griffin: viola; Pete Fitzgerald: guitar; Jessica Pavone: violin and viola (1-4,8-10); Tomas Ulrich: cello (1-4,8-10); Joseph Daley: tuba (1-4,8-10); Luther Gray: drums (1-4,8-10); Jay Hoggard: vibraphone (1-4,8-10); Jean Cook: violin (5-7); Okkyung Lee: cello (5-7).