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Taylor Ho Bynum - Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths

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An avalanche of pixels and ink has been spent documenting the instrumental prowess of Taylor Ho Bynum. His command of the trumpet family is almost scary in its completeness. This second project by his sextet offers another cargo of proof, but perhaps more importantly it points attention to the expansiveness in his compositional acumen. Bynum’s tapestries aren’t self-consciously eclectic, or haphazardly stitched. Instead, his musical mash-ups reflect a creative imperative for transitioning from cognition to audition. His colleagues operate on comparable thought planes, having come up in similar academic and performance circles.

The program here suggests the stacked structural symmetry of a sandwich with the bread and condiments of the opening pieces bracketing a meaty suite at the center. “Open” and “Close” feature Bynum alone, the first working out of a Bill Dixon bag of overblowing and polyphonics while the second relies on a staccato chatter of puckered tones. “Look Below” and “Goffstown” expand the color scheme to trio with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Thomas Fujiwara joining the leader. Halvorson’s hollow body tone on the first piece is almost tangibly thick, her forceful picking giving loping syncopation some bite. Bynum is especially expressive with smears and slurs jettisoning from his brass bell in jumbled streams. The second track swaps focus, centering on Fujiwara’s tidal rhythms as an undulating platform for the other players’ melancholy musings.

Dedicated to Bynum mentor Braxton, the three-part “whYeXpliCitieS” employs the complete sextet with guitarist Evan O’Reilly and violist Jessica Pavone completing the line. Dropping the digital needle on the first part, it’s easy to mistake O’Reilly’s rippling wall of distortion for a Bardo Pond record. The crazy quilt calypso that opens “Part III” is comparably cracked. Halvorson’s strings approximate a ukulele while O’Reilly dials up pinched reverb to resemble an assemblage of steel drums. Bynum’s brass delivers squeaks and chirrups that bring to mind the topiary bird calls of Augie Colon, and Pavone saws a sweet jig beneath. It’s the only piece that wilts a bit under its length. Halvorson caps both tracks with curiously congruous classical filigrees. “Part II” is different still, as chamber convergences give way to a freebop dialogue between Bauder’s tenor and Fujiwara’s kit, the guitarists coming and going with twining commentary. More often than not, Bynum and his partners manage the enviable upstream feat of melding genuine surprise to sound.

~ Derek Taylor

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