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If a musical work aspires to the adventurous, it is essential to have musicians who can confidently navigate the terrain. Saxophonist David Binney has assembled such a crew on South : tenorist Chris Potter, guitarist Adam Rogers, pianist Uri Caine, and bassist Scott Colley, plus Brian Blade or Jim Black on drums.
The opening "Out Beyond Ideas" is layered like a story with several chapters. Potter wails passionately above the soaring vamp until everyone gently alights to Earth. "The Global Soul" opens with a mysterious plucked solo by Colley, percolating with Caine and Colley in a three-note tandem. "Leaving the Sea" begins with a creeping piano statement and, in its wake, Binney's soprano whispers into play along with spare accompaniment by Colley and Blade. The hypnotic ballad "Traveler" features Rogers overdubbed on guitars and electronic effects by Binney. "New York Nature" includes more dexterous axe-work, starting off in the jazz idiom and ending up as a soul/funk excursion.
Binney is the prime mover behind this project, but he has so much confidence in his fellow musicians that he seems content to stay somewhat in the background. His compositions are almost symphonic in nature, challenging without being esoteric, thought-provoking without seizing the listener by the collar.
South proves that jazz is not restricted to a head/solos/head structure. Nor does it have to be a lot of indiscriminate wailing in an arcane tongue. As leader, Binney takes full advantage of his talented ensemble, and this excellent disc reveals just how connected the common threads of music, from jazz to R&B to classical, can be.