Taylor Ho Bynum & Spidermonkey Strings: Madeleine Dreams (2009)
Madeleine Dreams is about as odd as the novel upon which it is based. Taylor Ho Bynum and SpiderMonkey Strings weave deftly through the magical realism of Madeleine is Sleeping, a novel written by Bynum's sister Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.
Vocalist Kyoko Kitamura flows through the divide between dream and reality with grace. She narrates the first seven tracks, the lyrics of which are excerpts from the story, with a smoky alto that at turns belongs to a children's storyteller, slam poet or blues singer. The yawning quality of her voice and wide emotive range makes "Le Petomane," the story of a tall, flatulent man, charming and eerie and turns "Objects Lost On Journeys," a surrealist tale of missing suitcases and glasses, into an enchanting elegy.
The instrumentation is very effective in laying down a soundtrack to the book excerpts. In "Lesson," trembling, crooning violin (Jason Kao Hwang), a rumbling and weeping cello (Tomas Ulrich) and a sweet, plucking viola (Jessica Pavone) narrate the brief but lovely number. A creeping tuba (Joseph Daley) and spluttering cornet (Bynum) treads softly into the next track, "Metamorphosis," as the strings section whistles in the wind, as if Madeleine were suddenly left alone in what has become a nightmare.
The last three tracks are arrangements of an Ornette Coleman tune, a Duke Ellington standard and a Marshall Allen/Ronnie Boykins/Sun Ra space melody, respectively. In Coleman's "What Reason Could I Give," drummer Luther Gray gets to stretch as Bynum flutters through on muted cornet. Kitamura delves into the avant-garde by manipulated moans, groans, sighs and scatting as if her voice were just another member of the strings ensemble.
Bynum's arrangement of Ellington's "The Mooche" starts out as a lethargic duet between tuba and Kitamura's moaning, buzzing voice and then the strings finally jump in and the tune begins to sound like the familiar jazz standard. Pete Fitzpatrick's guitar is an unexpected but pleasant addition.
The CD wavers between fantasy and reality with nimble fingers and a flair for storytelling. It seems that Bynum, like his sister, has a knack for it as well.
Track Listing: hush; le petomane; lesson; metamorphosis; objects lost on journeys; hush (reprise); What Reason Could I Give; The Mooche; Angels and Demons at Play.
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn; Kyoko Kitamura: voice; Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Jessica Pavone: viola; Tomas Ulrich: cello; Pete Fitzpatrick: guitar; Joseph Daley: tuba; Luther Gray: drums.