Taylor Ho Bynum: A Trickster Sensibility

Chris May BY

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Is Taylor Ho Bynum the most extraordinary cornet player to emerge since Louis Armstrong? It's beginning to look that way. With a vast sonic vocabulary, blessed with soaring lyricism, fearlessly forward looking yet with a hotline to gut bucket primitivism, Bynum, still in his early 30s, is already a singular and thrilling artist.

Two late 2007/early 2008 sessions—Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths, featuring Bynum's own sextet, and High Definition, made as a member of bassist Joe Morris' quartet—grab the listener around both ears and haul him, a willing captive, into a maelstrom of creativity, risk-taking, rhythm, joy and laughter.

Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet

Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths



Bynum's core distinguishing marks—visceralism and playfulness—are perhaps unexpected in a student of, and continuing participant in, the intellectually rigorous music of reed player and composer Anthony Braxton. But Bynum combines faith in AACM theorising with reverence for Charles Ives and Duke Ellington, two of America's wittiest 20th century composers. Tellingly, he has described himself as possessing a "trickster sensibility." Like acid prankster Ken Kesey, Bynum has "further" painted on the front of his bus in vivid day-glo colors.

The influence of Braxton is most obvious in the title of the three part suite—"whYeXpliCitieS"—which is the 31:37 centerpiece of Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths. It is not so apparent in the music itself, in which Braxtonian modular, interlocking, pre-composed passages are present but subordinate to longer sections of swinging, feral improvisation. Bynum is a mellifluous and accessible composer; the first part of "whYeXpliCitieS" includes a quietly euphoric, Celtic-folksy dialogue between viola player Jessica Pavane and bass clarinetist Matt Bauder, while the third opens with a delightfully naif calypso theme, carried by Bauder's blowsy tenor saxophone over guitarist Evan O'Reilly's simulated steel pans. But in improvisation Bynum is as much concerned with sonic experiment as he is with harmonic development. His trove of smears, growls, cries and gutturalisms reach beyond abstraction to touch the expressive sophistication of the human voice.

As a composer/arranger, Bynum makes imaginative use of the unusual sonorities offered by two electric guitarists, a bass clarinetist and a viola player, and his band of young masters and mistresses is a joy to hear, each shining in their frequent and extended turns centerstage. A momentous and altogether brilliant album.

Joe Morris Bass Quartet

High Definition



High Definition finds Bynum in another compatible, if more grounded, setting, bassist Joe Morris' piano-less quartet. A committed innovator and free improv adept, Morris takes care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. He is seeped in the tradition and prominently includes swing and melody in his music "as acts of defiance." Three of the tracks here—"Skeleton," "Land Mass" and "All-in-One"—are rooted in boppish tunes, rhythms and chord changes. Two others—"Morning Group" and "Topics"—are more free in conception and approach. But freedom and swing collide to glorious effect throughout the album.

Bynum's solos—he's heard here on trumpet and flugelhorn as well as cornet—are as rocket-fuelled and unfettered as on his own album, and are nicely set off by the more measured, "ancient to the future" contributions of saxophonist Allan Chase. Chase's big toned, out-of-Leo Parker baritone solos on "Skeleton" and "All-in-One" are amongst the album's highlights, with the latter also including a resonant Morris solo. Drummer Luther Gray is a constant pleasure, a propulsive but feline accompanist and a fiery improvisor.

Two magnificent albums. A double whammy of category busting, great jazz.

Tracks and Personnel

Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths

Tracks: Open; Look Below; whYeXpliCitieS (Part 1); whYeXpliCitieS (Part 2); whYeXpliCitieS (Part 3); Goffstown; Close.

Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Matt Bauder: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Jessica Pavone: viola; Mary Halvorson: electric guitar; Evan O'Reilly: electric guitar; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

High Definition

Tracks: Skeleton; Morning Group; Land Mass; Topics; Bearing; All-in-One; Super Spot; The Air Has Color.

Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, trumpet, flugelhorn; Allan Chase: alto, baritone and soprano saxophone; Joe Morris: double bass; Luther Gray: drums.

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