Since he started teaching at Wesleyan University in the '90s, Anthony Braxton has found a large number of players who have embraced his compositional and improvisational ideas. Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum has been among the most active in Braxton's galaxy. Bynum has also been directing a large array of his own ensembles; of those, his sextet is one of the most fruitful. Populated by other students of Braxton, this group released the superb Middle Picture (Firehouse 12, 2007).
Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths is a step beyond the sextet's first foray, being made up of all Bynum originals with an overarching concept to the eight pieces that gives the entirety a structural unity. The two end pieces are cornet solos. The second and penultimate piece are performed by the trio of Bynum, guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, a long-time Bynum collaborator. Also, the unique instrumentation (cornet, sax, viola, two guitars and drums) now sounds more flexible. Without a bass, the group's sound has a buoyant quality that gives the music clarity even in its densest passages.
The centerpiece of this disc consists of a lengthy three-part suite, "whYeXpliCitieS," dedicated to Braxton and performed by the entire sextet. It begins with very un-Braxtonian guitar power chords and feedback (courtesy of Evan O'Reilly), before settling into a slow movement with a haunting melody line played by violist Jessica Pavone. The second section revolves around a knotty theme that sounds as if it's based on Braxton's approach, both thematically and rhythmically. The final movement is founded on an almost folk-like theme given an unusual arrangement, with saxophonist Matt Bauder taking the lead while pizzicato viola and a flanged, percussive guitar (O'Reilly) decorate it. It gradually becomes misshapen and distorted, slowing down for a beautiful interlude by Bynum then picking up steam again, concluding with a driving section.
What's impressive is how un-Braxtonian the music sounds. Bynum is a creative player with his own ideas about composition and improvisation. And that may be the greatest lesson he learned from his mentor.
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