David Binney: Aliso (2010)
For Aliso, reedman David Binney wanted to get back to "doing things that have been part of my life since I was a kid." It's clear that any time is a good time for a happy childhood, because both Binney and his band dive into Aliso like 10 year-olds on vacation at Disney World.
The opening title track has a gritty New York feel reminiscent of the mid-century era Criss Cross likes to revisit. The groove is complex and rich, and the street-tough foundation work of pianist John Escreet and bassist Eivind Opsvik lets drummer Dan Weiss put just enough hiss on "Aliso" to make it sizzle. Binney and guitarist Wayne Krantz could easily be mistaken for twin tenor saxophones on the melody's intro, but then Krantz turns it up to 11 and lets his solo rock. It's 20th Century Miles Davis, but the effect is closer to Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia, 1968) than it is to Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959). Binney takes "Aliso" to its climax with a visceral solo, filled with the maximum daily requirement of speed, passion, and precision.
The Miles Davis metaphor is fitting, as almost all the standards on Aliso come from former Davis personnelthe exception being a straight-no-speed-limit blast on Thelonious Monk's "Think of One," featuring sensational chords-within-chords play by Jacob Sacks (who splits time in the piano chair with Escreet). Weiss' breakneck bebop beat sets the tone for Sam Rivers' "Fuschia Swing Song," and Binney gives Wayne Shorter big love on "Toy Tune" and "Teru," with Sacks scattering profound exclamation points all around the former, while Binney reveals the latter's distant relationship to the wistful world of Billy Strayhorn.
Binney saves the best for last with John Coltrane's "Africa." A sprawling, unwieldy monster on the Creed Taylor-produced Africa/Brass (Impulse, 1961), Binney strips the epic down to a thrilling quintet arrangement without losing any of original's spirit and power. Escreet's best work happens here, from his trills and chords in the first section to a two-handed mid-tune solo that seems to float in mid-air. Krantz's following solo starts out spare, finishes in low-Earth orbit, and never loses a marvelous sense of impudence that could only come from the 21st Century. That said, Binney shows great respect for the original recording, even as his solos are his solos, not ones Coltrane might have played.
To be sure, the originals on Aliso are excellent, particularly the dark, smoky underbelly of "Bar Life." But if the object of the exercise is to touch on music from Binney's musical youth, then those originals have to dovetail with the standards in feeling and intent. That they do, making Aliso a decidedly enjoyable time trip that doesn't insist jazz's past is better than its present.
Track Listing: Aliso; A Day in Music; Toy Tune; Strata; Teru; Fuschia 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.