Taylor Ho Bynum's The Ambiguity Manifesto, with its oxymoronic title, is the third album in what the cornetist-composer calls an "accidental trilogy." Following his Firehouse 12 Records releases Navigation (Possible Abstracts XII & XIII) (2013) and Enter the Plus Tet (2016), Bynum recognized a formhowever unconventionalboth in the composition and performing of these large ensemble works. With a 9-tette made up of members of his sextet and Plus Tet, Bynum adds Stomu Takeishi on electric bass.
Bynum cites Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Bill Dixonall of whom he has worked withas affecting this music, but those, or any amalgam of influences, are not as apparent as the composer's own approach. There may not be a formal narrative holding the material together, but there are linked ideas where the initial outlines are analyzed and turned inside-out as the album progresses. Bynum doesn't overload the concept, letting the group distinguish themselves through their individual and collective interpretations.
The quirkily swinging, propulsive rhythm of "Neither When nor Where" opens the album on an exuberant note and leads into the brief, constantly-shifting "Enter Ally" with its multifaceted rhythms and free improvisations. Tomas Fujiwara's kit ushers in "Real/Unreal (for Ursula K. Le Guin)" with Tomeka Reid's cello and Bynum lending a solemnity to the ten-minute tribute to the late, great science fiction and non-fiction writer and lecturer. The most darkly melodic piece on The Ambiguity Manifesto, it nevertheless builds to a more disordered conclusion, apropos of the two worlds Le Guin called home. The seventeen-minute "(G)host(aa/ab)" is by turns a carnival-like, theatrical, and rock-driven extravaganza with the entire ensemble keeping countless balls in the air. Slightly longer, "Enter (g) Neither" is a more episodic series of free improvisations held together by Fujiwara's magic.
As always, the brilliance of the horns of Bynum, Jim Hobbs, Ingrid Laubrock, and Bill Lowe, guitarist Mary Halvorson's ingeniously transformative presence and the imaginativeness of bassist Ken Filiano, give many lives to the music. For all the complexity of The Ambiguity Manifesto, there is a resounding clarity to the entire project. It is a testament to an exceptionaland uniquecomposer and the first-rate company he keeps.
Neither When nor Where; Enter Ally; Real/Unreal (for Ursula K. Le Guin); (G)host(aa/ab); Enter (g) Neither; Ally Enter; Unreal/Real (for old music).
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, compositions; Jim Hobbs: alto saxophone; Bill Lowe: bass trombone, tuba; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Ken Filiano: bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Tomeka Reid: cello; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass.
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