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TAYLOR HO BYNUM & SPIDERMONKEY STRINGS With JASON HWANG/TOMAS ULRICH/OKKYUNG LEE - Other Stories [Three Suites](482 Music 1041; USA)
Taylor Ho Bynum's great cornet playing is familiar to most free jazz fans by now and widely documented on various releases, but this release is one of his first major statements as a composer. Anyone who's spent the past ten years in intimate association with Anthony Braxton as a student and first-call collaborator is bound to have a quirky angle on the enterprise of academic notationalism. For starters, Bynum follows his mentor's lead in using a very unconventional assemblage of conventional instruments. This disc documents two extended suites by his SpiderMonkey Strings ensemble: Bynum (cornet), Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Jessica Pavone (violin, viola), Stephanie Griffin (viola), Tomas Ulrich (cello), Pete Fitzpatrick (guitar), Joseph Daley (tuba), Luther Gray (drumkit), Jay Hoggard (vibraphone).
Also like Braxton, Bynum's writing often splits the ensemble into parallel independent layers, like in "Supo Eno: Part One" where the string section moves in a skew plane away from the bristling free jazz of Bynum's cornet and Gray's drumkit. Strategies from jazz and academic composition are both synthesized and juxtaposed; it's a good example of the continued refinements to the original "third stream" concept. However, with its heavy emphasis on tender and accessible melody, harmony, and groove, this disc suggests that Bynum takes as much inspiration from Ellington as Braxton. His romanticism comes to a head in the lovely suite for string quartet (Hwang and Jean Cook - violins; Griffin - viola; Okkyung Lee - cello), guitar (Fitzpatrick), and cornet (Bynum), and the poignant pre-modernist string movement in "Supo Eno: Part Four". A playful eclectic side comes out in the "SpiderMonkey Stories" suite, with tuba and drumkit grooves in the vein of Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus, and (in "Chuck") the strings/tuba/guitar blend working some slow, chunky riffage with a striking resemblance to the first album by the popular 90s rock group Rage Against the Machine.
Bynum has an impressive cast at his service here, musicians with the chops and aesthetic disposition suited to the music. With their experience together in Dominic Duval's groundbreaking string quartet Hwang and Ulrich are masters of unclassifiable post-tonal improv, and the underappreciated Joseph Daley makes his presence known with an amazing hyper-vibrato tuba solo in "Supo Eno: Part Three". While it sometimes buckles under the weight of its ambitions, this is an intriguing document of new work from a precocious instrumentalist and composer sure to challenge and delight listeners for decades to come.