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David Binney Quartet at L'Astral in Montreal, May 13, 2010

John Kelman By

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David Binney Quartet
L'Astral
Montréal, Canada
May 13, 2010

For one night, saxophonist David Binney brought a little taste of the 55 Bar to Montréal's L'Astral, courtesy of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Mind you, as much as the well-known New York club acts as a regular performance space for Binney, and a laboratory for new music and new collaborations, it's hard to imagine it matching L'Astral, a venue opened during the 2009 FIJM in its new Maison du Festival, the home it's needed for many years. Seating about 350 people and with open sight lines everywhere, its generous stage and outstanding sound has already made it a highly respected venue—a reputation that's matched by the festival's remarkable commitment to making it a year-round jazz club with its Jazz All Year Round series, presenting an average of 15 shows each month since inception.

For his May 13, 2010 performance, Binney brought a couple of younger yet now relatively longtime collaborators. Pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Dan Weiss have been playing together for fifteen years, since meeting in New York when Sacks relocated there from Michigan at the age of eighteen. The two also play together in Weiss' trio, heard most recently on the not-surprisingly cross-cultural and interpretively deep Timshel (Sunnyside, 2010), and one of the Montréal show's most compelling aspects was being able to truly feel both the profound, joined-at-the-hip musical connection between the two of them (and the entire quartet for that matter), not to mention the fun they were clearly having.


Binney also recruited bassist Zack Lober, a Montréal expat who has been living in New York for five years and is part of a collaborative quintet called The Story, which released its self-titled debut independently in 2009. Lober has been a fixture on the Montréal scene, performing with artists including pianist John Roney and the Doxas brothers (saxophonist Chet and drummer Jim), and while he may be a relatively recent collaborator with Binney and his other band mates, he was as deeply into the music as any of them, no small challenge given the inherent complexity of some of Binney's writing.



While Binney's credentials as a player have never been in question, not since he emerged in the mid-1990s in Lost Tribe—a prescient group that also kick-started the careers of guitarists Adam Rogers and David Gilmore—his albums, and his reputation, have focused more on his distinctive approach to writing. He may not be known to the larger jazz fan base as well as he should, but amongst many musicians he's become an influential touchstone, with an unmistakable ability to create challenging yet accessible environments for improvisation that are memorable for their serpentine melodies, open-ended yet structurally clear constructs and harmonically distinctive contexts. In performance, however, there's a more equitable balance between Binney the writer and Binney the improviser.



With only three songs in each hour-long set—announced at the start of the set, almost as if, while clearly aware of the audience, the intent was to get that out of the way so the band could just focus, and play—there was no shortage of solo space for everyone, and what became immediately evident the moment the band launched into the first tune (an untitled original), was that this was a group comfortable in its own skin, with an engendered trust that allowed it to go wherever it wanted without fear. This music was all about risk, but was all the more engaging for the clear confidence each player had that, no matter what they did, no matter where they went, the rest would be there to either push them farther or, very occasionally, rope them back in.

From left: Jacob Sacks, David Binney, Zack Lober, Dan Weiss



The six pieces, opening original aside and another unrecorded tune called "Simple Vibe," were culled from recent albums, including the quirky, shifting bar lines of "PF" and fierier "Gesturecalm," from Bastion of Sanity (Criss Cross, 2005), an extended look at the darkly balladic "Here's All the Love I Have," from The Third Occasion (Mythology, 2009), that went to more jagged and powerful places than the original, and the more immediate yet still left-of-center funk of the title track to Aliso (Criss Cross, 2010).


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