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The plunger-muted cornet of Taylor Ho Bynum is immediately recognizable to fans who’ve heard him playing around Boston for the past several years with the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, Aardvark, and other ensembles, as well as with his former Wesleyan instructor Anthony Braxton. With his infinitely expressive range of tone colors — slurs, whinnies, growls, and bright open horn — and daunting technique, Bynum is our Bubber Miley.
But now, as the Pythons would say, he’s given us something completely different, Other Stories: Three Suites (482 Music), with his SpiderMonkey Strings ensemble. On this his CD debut as a leader, Bynum combines one of his working bands of cornet, guitar, tuba, and drums with a string-quartet format he originally used as part of a score for Leigh Dana Jackson’s short film "The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley." That film music is heard here in a 5:50 suite bookended by the four-part "Supo Eno" (26:04) and the three-part "SpiderMonkey Stories" (24:19).
Bynum’s combining of idioms is compelling at every turn. His distinctive vocal-like cornet enters on the first track with dissonant strings and is a key voice throughout. But these aren’t just extended concerti for cornet. Bynum lays out for extended passages. There are plenty of those spiky, post-Schoenberg dissonances in the strings, but Bynum passes easily from the tonally unhinged to tonally and rhythmically grounded lyric melodic themes, with solos all around, including some very jazzy phrasing from vibist Jay Hoggard and veteran jazz tuba man Joseph Daley. The string players also improvise their own occasional adagios and pas des deux as well as agitated, skittering solo statements. And Part Four of "Supo Eno" begins with a rising little melodic figure that I could swear came out of Beethoven or Schubert, though Bynum says he was thinking of Charles Ives.
The most accessible section is the Hornsley suite, with its lyrical pizzicato-string accompaniments to a cornet melody. But as in most jazz, rhythm is king, and SpiderMonkey Stories ends with string statements over chunky rock rhythms played by tuba and Ornette-style rhythm guitar (Pete Fitzpatrick), all harmonically askew and biting.