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Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings: Other Stories (Three Suites)

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This is not a "cornet with strings album.

Cornetist/composer Taylor Ho Bynum does include a string quartet on Other Stories, and he certainly plays cornet on the record—but anyone hoping for an hour of standard jazz soloing over strings will be nonplussed. Anyone else will simply be astonished and delighted. As the album's title states, it consists of three extended suites. For two of them, "Supo Eno and "SpiderMonkey Stories, Bynum is accompanied by a string quartet (Jason Kao Hwang, Jessica Pavone, Stephanie Griffin, and Tomas Ulrich), guitarist Pete Fitzpatrick, drummer Luther Gray, vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, and tuba player Joseph Daley. A single listen reveals that Bynum's not going for mere novelty here; this collection of instruments works. The sound is as expansively brash or subtly lyrical as the composer could desire.

Bynum is acting as composer here, to a large extent, and ultimately the group is his instrument—which isn't to say he doesn't play fantastically on this record. So do the other players, including album MVP Daley, whose tuba seems to be the essential fulcrum of the ensemble.

The first part of "Supo Eno" finds all the instruments slowly congealing and massing into a thick, seething polyphony that has a strange, humid, and atavistic beauty. Part two strips the instruments down to a string quartet with Hwang's violin playing swooping, swerving lines against the dissonant harmonies of the other strings. Part three includes an utterly stunning a cappella tuba cadenza where Daley at times produces simultaneous vocalized, higher-pitch lines over his low melody. After all that's occurred, part four is almost inappropriately resolved—and downright pretty—as tuba and cornet float over unagitated strings. There's an odd sense of non sequitur here that's underlined by the bleary, almost Ivesian disconnects in tempo and the mild dissonances of the players' lines.

The second suite, "The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley, omits vibes, drums, and tuba and has a slightly different string quartet lineup. Two of its three parts are very brief—wonderful vignettes, really. The longest, "Together, is one of the CD's high points, a luminous morningsong of plucked unison strings, tremolo guitar, and Bynum's singing, almost clarinet-like cornet.

If much of this recording fuses elements of jazz with 20th Century composition, "Dakinis' Dance and "Chuck —two of the three concluding "SpiderMonkey Stories —bring the rock. "Dakinis' Dance is built around a lurching groove of bass line tuba, drums, and skittering, brittle guitar that starts and stops maddeningly (silence and plucked strings alternating) throughout the track. The final piece, "Meditation, is all shimmer and alien beauty, Bynum blowing simple notes against gorgeously scored strings that sweep across the sonic field like sunbeams through cloudbreak.

The instrumentation on Other Stories is entirely successful and essential to making the compositions work, marking this release as the best album of the year.

Visit Taylor Ho Bynum on the web.


Track Listing: Supo Eno: Parts One-Four; The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley: Stuart's Theme; Small Mistakes; Together; SpiderMonkey Stories: Dakinis' Dance; Chuck; Meditation.

Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, compositions; Jason Kao Hwang: violin; Pete Fitzpatrick: guitar; Stephanie Griffin: viola; Jessica Pavone: violin, viola (1-4,8-10); Tomas Ulrich: cello (1-4,8-10); Joseph Daley: tuba (1-4,8-10); Luther Gray: drums (1-4,8-10); Jay Hoggard: vibraphone (1-4,8-10); Jean Cook: violin (5-7); Okkyung Lee: cello (5-7).

Title: Other Stories (Three Suites) | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: 482 Music


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