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David Binney: Third Occasion

John Kelman By

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Some artists grow in leaps and bounds, others more gradually. David Binney has largely been one to evolve slowly over time. Still, the alto saxophonist—who has almost insidiously become one of those musicians' musicians, well-known within the community, but without the more popular acclaim he deserves—has always stretched himself in a variety of contexts, from the harder blowing Bastion of Sanity (Criss Cross, 2005) and Cities and Desire (Criss Cross, 2006) to the more experimental, post-production oriented Out of Airplanes (Mythology, 2006) and his ongoing partnership with pianist Edward Simon on the Latin-tinged Affinidad (Red, 2001) and Oceanos (Criss Cross, 2007).

Even in looser contexts, Binney's compositional voice has always shone through. A deeply visual, cinematic writer capable of suite-like, longer-form writing that still leaves room for expressionist improvisational tendencies, he's been on the upswing for the last few years, honing his own brand of oblique lyricism. Third Occasion, the altoist's first release as a leader in two years, represents a major leap forward in finding ways to integrate his interests as a writer with his passion as an improviser. With a core group of past associates—pianist Craig Taborn, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade—Binney expands the sonic palette of the disc through a four-piece horn section on a number of tracks. It's not the first time he's worked within larger contexts—Free to Dream (Mythology, 1998) and The Luxury of Guessing (Audioquest, 1995) both included larger line-ups—but this is the first time in a decade that he's done so, and with the advancements in his playing and writing, Third Occasion is a major leap forward.

As complex as Binney's charts are, there's something almost Jungian in their ability to evoke strong emotional responses, ranging from the sweeping feel of the title track to the jerky idiosyncrasies of "Squares and Palaces" and the dark beauty of "Here is All the Love I Have." Binney's use of the horn quartet on the fierier "Explaining What's Hidden," which also features his most fervent solo of the set, is expansive and lush, as it is on the rhythmically knotty "Blood of Cities," where the contrapuntal horn chart is subtle during the Bolero-like, slowly intensifying repetition of its core motif.

As much as it is the writing that defines Third Occasion, the collective interpretive acumen of the quartet contributes equally to this being one of Binney's best releases to date. During the open-ended middle sections of "Blood of Cities," the group's ability to move from the gentle and form-led to ethereal free exchanges, that remain thematically focused, is almost unparalleled. Colley's ability to find the right note for every moment, Blade's empathic yet suggestive approach and Taborn's seemingly encyclopedic ability to work in any context dovetails perfectly with Binney's greater freedom, as he delivers solo after solo of considered yet cathartic invention.

Binney's "musicians' musician" status needs to change, and if enough people hear the painstakingly composed yet improvisationally unfettered Third Occasion, it's hard to believe that it won't.

Track Listing: Introducao; Third Occasion; This Naked Sunday; Squares and Palaces; Solo; Here is All The Love I Have; Explaining What's Hidden; Blood of Cities; End.

Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Scott Colley: acoustic bass; Brian Blade: drums; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet; Brad Mason: trumpet, flugelhorn; Corey King: trombone; Andy Hunter: trombone.

Title: Third Occasion | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Mythology Records

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