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Taylor Ho Bynum: Enter the PlusTet

Troy Collins By

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Taylor Ho Bynum continues to delve into the endless possibilities of large ensemble writing on Enter the PlusTet, the debut of his newest band of the same name. Following in the footsteps of Navigation, his ambitious multi-format sextet and septet recording (Firehouse 12, 2012), this lean set finds the vanguard cornetist more than doubling the size of his working sextet on a trio of long-form compositions that circumvent the conventions of traditional song forms by way of non-linear episodic narratives.

The fifteen-member roster features the longstanding members of his sextet, including alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, bass trombonist/tuba player Bill Lowe, guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. The intrepid Nate Wooley and newcomer Stephanie Richards fill the trumpet chairs, with saxophonists Matt Bauder and Ingrid Laubrock, trombonist Steve Swell, and French horn player Vincent Chancey rounding out the expansive horn section, while violinist Jason Kao Hwang, cellist Tomeka Reid and vibraphonist Jay Hoggard add kaleidoscopic tone color to the lineup's brass-heavy instrumental palette.

The scope of this project was partially inspired by Bynum's work on "Trillium J," Anthony Braxton's massive 4-act opera, although each of the album's individual pieces have their own unique backstory. The lengthy opener, "Sleeping Giant," named after meandering hiking trails near Bynum's New Haven residence, dominates the first half of the record. Using modular structures and advanced conduction techniques culled from Braxton's playbook, the experimental sonic travelogue emulates "the unexpected discoveries of a digressive journey." In true idiosyncratic fashion, Bynum includes a surprise dedication to Prince during the work's second half that seamlessly culminates in a rousing homage, soaring with a purple-hued pop melody.

The remainder of the session is no less eclectic. Originally written for James Jabbo Ware's Orchestra, the bluesy abstraction "Three (for Me We & Them)" is an unconventional swinging tribute to creative big bands in the tradition of Duke Ellington and Sun Ra, bookended by Halvorson's psychedelic fretwork and Fujiwara's thunderous variations. The fragmentary title of the closer, "That Which Only ... Never Before," is based on one of the last things visionary trumpeter Bill Dixon said to Bynum before his final concert. The freewheeling tune encompasses a number of dynamic changes, veering from brisk expressionism to languid introspection. Buoyed by a series of probing extrapolations from Bynum, Reid and Hobbs, the piece serves as a reminder for improvisers everywhere to seize the moment.

Track Listing: Sleeping Giant; Three (for Me We & Them); That Which Only ... Never Before.

Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, conductor; Stephanie Richards: trumpet; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Vincent Chancey: French horn; Steve Swell: trombone; Bill Lowe: bass trombone, tuba; Jim Hobbs: alto saxophone; Ingrid Laubrock: soprano and tenor saxophone; Matt Bauder: tenor and baritone saxophone; Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Tomeka Reid: cello; Jay Hoggard: vibraphone; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Ken Filiano: bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

Title: Enter the PlusTet | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Firehouse 12 Records


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