David Binney: Aliso (2010)
Finding musical parallels to David Binney's work is not always an easy task. As a composer, he has managed to create a distinctive sound, yet no single quality can properly define his work. Binney wears his influences on his sleeve throughout Aliso, choosing to touch on the work of Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, but his own writing for this album is often markedly different from the works of these icons.
Melodic twists and turns, which obscure otherwise straightforward rhythmic elements, are typical in much of Binney's writing and they pop up on the title track. Bassist Eivind Opsvik provides the catchy bass riff that lies at the center of the music, while Binney and guitarist Wayne Krantz work up a sweat with their solos later in the track. "A Day In Music" begins with some disjunct rhythms and, once the rhythm section establishes a firm groove, Krantz cuts loose with another killer solo. On-the-spot communication proves to be the key during "Strata" and pianist Jacob Sacks engages drummer Dan Weiss and Opsvik in some loose, but meaningful, musical dialogue. While all three of these originals are strong indications of Binney's compositional talents, these unique and engaging works pale in comparison to "Bar Life." Binney moves over the rhythm section with an assured attitude and, later, pianist John Escreet is left alone to establish a new feel. Opsvik provides some bubbly bass work and Escreet throws in some spiky runs and a rising sequence of chords. Krantz joins the party with some fusion-leaning fireworks and the band completely rocks out beneath him toward the end of the track.
On the covers, Binney seems to enjoy following in the direction of the originals, while throwing in one or two curveballs to keep things interesting. In the case of Sam Rivers' "Fuchsia Swing Song," Dan Weiss' rhythmic solo dissection provides a modern slant. This piece starts out as the most straight-ahead statement on the album but Weiss takes it to another level and his love of Indian rhythms sneaks into this solo. Wayne Shorter's "Teru" is a calming musical jewel that features some contemplative saxophone soloing and excellent bass work, while Shorter's "Toy Tune" undergoes some shifts in mood. Sacks throws in plenty of Monk-isms on an enjoyable take of "Think Of One," but it's Coltrane's "Africa" that deserves the most attention for its explosive energy. The ominous bass note at the outset is met with an Elvin Jones-like, loping swing feel from Weiss. Binney evokes the spirit of Coltrane as he soars and creates his own sheets of sound. A calm comes over the music when Escreet takes control but this doesn't last for long. Krantz starts off with some meandering fretwork but he eventually fires things up and the music reaches critical mass, finally ending with an ambient calm after the storm. While each section of this song is magnificent, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and the same can be said of this album.
Track Listing: Aliso; A Day In Music; Toy Tune; Strata; Teru; Fuchsia Swing Song; Bar Life; Think Of One; Africa.
Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone; Wayne Krantz: guitar; Jacob Sacks: piano (2-6, 8); John Escreet: piano (1, 7, 9); Eivind Opsvik: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.