David Binney: Graylen Epicenter (2011)
Undoubtedly one of the great alto saxophonists, David Binney's reputation as an original, exciting composer has also grown steadily since his debut recording, Point Game (Owl Records, 1989). Binney is so prolific a musician that it's sometimes hard to stay abreast of his current projects. However, there is little chance of Graylen Epicenter going unnoticed. With this recording Binney raises the bar, playing sublimely and drawing outstanding performances from an A-list of New York collaborators, clearly inspired by the leader's epic compositional terrain.
Intensity and grace dovetail throughout; on "All of Time," a beautiful motif morphs into a two-minute saxophone and vocal ostinatocourtesy of Gretchen Parlatoover which drummers Brian Blade and Dan Weiss engage in charged, yet wonderfully sympathetic dialogue. Pianist Craig Taborn's right-handed solo builds hypnotically, only to have Binney's searing feature nip in and up the ante. Binney's affecting vocals carry the melody, which returns briefly, ceding to a crashing conclusion.
The equally epic title track awakens slowly from Binney and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's harmonizing, while guitarist Wayne Krantz's craggy, soulful blues leads the tune up an enticing path before the saxophonist and trumpeter create a very different space, carving little eddies around one another in a meditative passage. Percussionists Kenny Wollesen and Rogerio Boccato add subtle accents, and Parlato's vocal lifts the quietly grand melody. Binney then unfolds a powerfully escalating solo over Taborn's beautifully weighted chords. Throughout Graylen Epicenter the leader and pianist create chemistry evocative of pianist Bill Evans and saxophonist John Coltrane.
There's tremendous breadth of imagination in these performances; a blowing-session freedom colors "Equality at Low Levels," which has a jagged, Scottish-sounding motif. Binney and Taborn trade exhilaratingly over Blade's Billy Cobham-esque press rolls and cracking cymbals. Even on the slower "Everglow," Binney's singing lines have a smoldering intensity. Bassist Eivind Opsvik's presence is quietly commanding throughout, slowly carving a deep, arco intro on the lovely "From This Far," which features a haunting Parlato, accompanied by Krantz's crystal-clear acoustic guitar. A driving bass ostinato over irresistible drumming launches "Terrorists and Movie Stars;" the two drummers' spark igniting the piece as Binney and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter go toe-to-toe in exciting fashion.
Intensity is the unifying thread on this CD. The dramatic (and nicely titled) "Any Year's Costume" makes the case that every song should have two drummers of this caliber. However Binney's secret weapon is Parlato, her sensual, wordless vocal on "Home" provides an obvious album highlight, but her overall contribution is to lay a slightly ethereal veil over the music. She fuses playfully with the horns, notably on "Same Stare, Different Thought," a complex choral miniature where she harmonizes impressively with trumpet and saxophone. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter has likened Gretchen's craft to that of Frank Sinatra, and her horn-like articulation is suffused with emotion, bringing another edge, to the music.
Graylen Epicenter works a wicked charm, and stands as Binney's finest recording to date, a modern classic.
Track Listing: All of Time; Graylen Epicenter; Equality at Low Levels; Everglow; From This Far; Terrorists and Movie Stars; Same Stare, Different Thought; Home; Any Years Costume; Waking to Waves.
Personnel: David Binney: alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Gretchen Parlato: vocal; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Wayne Krantz: guitar; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Brian Blade: drums; Kenny Wollesen: percussion, vibes; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.