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David Binney: Barefooted Town

John Kelman By

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Politics isn't the only thing that increasingly demands clear vision and steadfast commitment (even if it isn't getting it). In the jazz world—where the changing landscape makes getting heard one challenge, acceptance by a broader culture that views "jazz" as a dirty word another—it takes artists with unshakable resolve to stay the course. David Binney has not only honed an instantly recognizable compositional language without the trappings of predictability, he's become a mentor for younger artists, mixing and matching from a gradually increasing cadre of players. Binney continues alternating between releases on his own Mythology label—where the saxophonist has the luxury of time to fashion ambitious work like Graylen Epicenter (2011)—and more reductionist sets for The Netherlands' Criss Cross label, where just one day to record means the altoist has to make, if not concessions, then certainly compromises.

On the basis of Barefooted Town, however, whatever Binney sacrifices to get everything done in eight hours in no way dilutes the strength of his message. It's no lighter on the compositional front than the broader palette of his Mythology recordings are in retaining the kind of open space necessary to maximize the people with whom Binney regularly collaborates.

Binney brings back a number of players with whom he's worked increasingly in recent years, in particular Dan Weiss, who's been on all of Binney's Criss records since 2005's Bastion of Sanity, and for good reason: there seems little this drummer can't do, effortlessly combining cymbal-driven delicacy with more powerful twists and turns on the episodic "The Edge of Seasons." Initially waxing lyric, the 11-minute piece shifts, just as quickly, to an almost funky thematic section of layered meters before opening up to an extended solo from Binney newcomer David Virelles, suggesting that this pianist—largely associated with Cuban music, but clearly possessing a much broader reach—combines lithe linear dexterity with choppy chords informed by his roots, but taken much farther than past collaborators ever made possible.

The three-horn frontline combines, on the inevitably building title track, long-toned melodic baton-passing with unison and occasionally expanding harmony as a foundation for Weiss' equally patient marvel of a constructed solo, with Mark Turner's subsequent spot making this tenor saxophonist's relatively below-the-radar position all the more curious.

More than just a distinctive writer, Binney proves similar virtuosic mettle on "Secret Miracle," sharing the solo space with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on another piece that, despite its mathematical idiosyncrasies, flows naturally; its melody so singable that Binney adds his voice to the mix, as he does at the end of the title track.

The horns rarely stray from playing unison—doing otherwise might dilute the intrinsic strength of Binney's constructed themes—with the exception of "A Night Every Day," where overlapping lines create shifting harmonies, and the intertwining duality of the powerful opener, "Dignity." Binney may create music of no small compositional complexity, but at its core is a lyricism so strong that, amidst impossible to ignore ensemble and solo performances, Barefooted Town's greatest strength may well be in its unforgettable melodies, which remain unforgettable, long after it's over.

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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