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While trumpet plus rhythm trios are not a dime a dozen, they are becoming increasingly common currency. Following after Stephen Haynes' Parrhesia (Engine, 2011) and Kirk Knuffke's Chew Your Food (No Business Records, 2010), arrives an entry by the adventurous threesome of cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist John Hébert and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Though the title references Lloyd Alexander's children's favorite, it also neatly fits the ethos of three clearly separate authors who nevertheless meld their ideas into nine unified chapters.
Though the chops of all three are a given, they don't flaunt their prowess. Indeed the whole album could be characterized as understated, not only in its virtuosity but also in its melodies, with the four original compositions barely more explicit than the five group improvs. Bynum, who inexorably transcends his relationships with legends such as saxophonist Anthony Braxton and trumpeter Bill Dixon, is a master of dynamics, color and timbre (particularly with his fondness for mutes), waxing alternately puckish and world weary. Hébert consolidates a big sound with a penchant for recurrent bass figures which assume disproportionate significance through contrast with the surrounding stealthy interplay. Cleaver here proves himself a virtuoso of subtle underpinning, trading in small indeterminate tapping and muted cymbal splashes: shifting sands which rarely create any sustained meter. In many ways his performance recalls his fine contribution to the celebrated Farmers By Nature (AUM Fidelity, 2009), another largely improvised outing with pianist Craig Taborn and bassist William Parker.
At times it feels like catching just tantalizing snippets from a compelling private conversation. "White Birch" pitches slow trumpet and bass against faster drums, setting a mysterious mood, as if in the aftermath of some unspeakable tragedy, while the splendid "Digging for Clams" hinges around a passage of incandescent brass star-bursts above one of Hébert's patented motifs. "Binumbed" paradoxically is almost a feature for Cleaver's roiling drums, grounding the wah wah trumpet and arco drone. While the erstwhile dedicatee opens "Air Bear" with an advanced brass masterclass full of pinched squeals and split tone whistles presaging a construct assembled from the slightest of materials. Another high point comes on "Sevens Second Edition" where an off kilter sway prompts oblique commentary from composer Bynum.
This is not a release that provides instant gratification. Book of Three both demands and sustains the repeated listening needed to appreciate its latent charms.
Track Listing: White Birch; Digging for Clams; Death Star; Sevens First Edition; Meat Cleaver; Binumbed; Air Bear; Sevens Second Edition; How Low.
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet, trumpbone; John Hebert: double bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums, percussion.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.