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David Binney: Barefooted Town

Dan McClenaghan By

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Alto saxophonist/composer David Binney must not worry about "market saturation." He releases albums, as a leader for both Criss Cross and his own Mythology label, at a rate that many top jazz artists did during the late 1950's and early 1960's. Less than six months into 2011, he has already offered up Graylen Epicenter (Mythology) and now, on Criss Cross, Barefooted Townunder his own name, in addition to sideman and producer gigs over the years for artists like saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and bassist Scott Colley.

Barefooted Town, in a standard Criss Cross Records mode of operation, is a blowing session, not unlike many of the classic Blue Note Records sets. With a three-horn frontline—trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner join Binney in this blow fest—everyone gets a good share of solo room, with Turner, always a very busy sideman, sounding particularly inspired.

The tag "blow fest" can mean an off-the-cuff, loose-jointed, sometimes even sloppy sound. That's never the case with Binney, even on Criss Cross' one day sessions. His compositions—and of all the hats he wears, that of songsmith may be the most dazzling—have a sturdy architecture and a complexity/simplicity dynamic that leaves the feeling of being nourished by the meaty content while, at times, wanting to jump up and dance with their energetically engaging grooves.

Binney has a talent for picking the perfect tune to open his sets. "Dignity" shifts gears, like a bicyclist rolling over hilly terrain, with drummer Dan Weiss switching from powerhouse percussion to intricate timekeeping. The song has a brightness and energy that's hard to resist, with Binney blowing hot on a "hang on tight, we're going for a wild ride" solo.

While Akinmusire, Turner, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Weiss have worked with Binney before, pianist David Virelles is new to the fold, adding a new dimension to the collective sound and offering up his prickly and distinctively off-center vision with caffeinated solo on "Seven Sixty." "The Edge of Seasons" changes moods and colors—bright versus dark, brooding versus joyful—while the title tune tugs the tempo down, unfolding over a repeated piano chord inside a melancholy fanfare of horns. Binney adds his vocals here, sounding like a choir of Gregorian Monks chanting soothing religion over Turner's raging fire-and-brimstone solo.

Binney's Mythology Records releases like Graylen Epicenter may receive more critical praise than his Criss Cross sets. On his own clock, Binney is able to put more effort into concept and craftsmanship, but his blowing sessions, especially Aliso (Criss Cross, 2010), and, now, Barefooted Town, are outstanding offerings from this versatile, prolific and top level artist.

Track Listing: Dignity; Seven Sixty; The Edge of Seasons; Barefooted Town; Secret Miracle; A Night Every Day; Once When She Was Here.

Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone, voice; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone; David Virelles; piano; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

Title: Barefooted Town | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Criss Cross


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