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The leader’s expressive cornet is joined by a traditional string quartet and a novel rhythm section of drums, tuba, vibraphone and electric guitar, a line-up not uncommon in the Loft Jazz era. Considering the potential density of the ensemble it is remarkable how spacious the compositions feel here. Bynum’s writing is careful not to overburden these three suites with excessive clutter. There are moments of singular clarity featuring a lone musician, so sparse are the arrangements. The pieces themselves veer from wooly improvisation to carefully executed counterpoint and harmonization. Bynum is not only a meticulous craftsman in regards to complex structures, he is also, at heart, a gorgeous tunesmith. Featuring an abbreviated line-up, “The First Three Lives of Stuart Hornsley,” the shortest suite on the album, is also its most accessible. But it is this accessibility that is so surprising, as Bynum works a classical theme of absolute beauty and restraint into this six minute suite. With its buoyant pizzicato strings and sugary cornet melody, it is in effect, the trickiest piece on an album one would expect to contain only “difficult” music. The full ensemble has a unique sound, owing as much to contemporary chamber music as it does post-war Jazz. This combination is readily apparent right from the start of the opening suite, “Supo Eno.” Joseph Daley’s multiphonic tuba drone weaves around Luther Gray’s fitful trap set interjections while the strings soar in a web of crystalline shards overhead. Jay Hoggard’s bright vibraphone saunters through as Bynum chimes in with breathy rejoinders and brash incantations. Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum has gained considerable notice as one of Anthony Braxton’s most aspiring pupils. He studied under Braxton at Wesleyan and was the co-starring artist of his Duets (Wesleyan) 2002. In addition, he is a member of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra as well as a regular sideman to Cecil Taylor; Bynum is finally debuting with his first official date as an ensemble leader.
Bynum’s principle working unit is a slightly more conventional electro-acoustic quintet with traditional rhythm section and dueling guitarists. SpiderMonkey Strings involves a far more esoteric line-up. Named in honor of classic folk tales involving the trickster figures of Anansi, The Spider and The Monkey King, from Africa and Asia respectively, this ensemble relishes its duality of deceptively chamber-like construction, yet is unbound by convention in execution. Stretching from strident Ivesian classicism and Loft Jazz inspired melting-pot rhythmic variations to raucous rock riffing, SpiderMonkey Strings spans not only genre, but time.Pete Fitzpatrick’s electric guitar alternates between staccato shards and metallic riffing, primarily on the final suite which acts as a showcase for the instrument.
The most exploratory and genre-bending set on the album, “SpiderMonkey Stories” comes off as the vociferous cousin to the album’s obtuse opening suite. It begins spaciously, with Bynum’s soaring cornet solo cadenza stoking the fires of his band mates, leading them into a maze of grinding backbeats and neoclassical pointillism, until Fitzpatrick’s distorted electric guitar begins to howl. Churning out clipped power chords and dissonant figures, the suite takes on the semblance of a heavy metal concerto.
The leader plays more of a composer’s role within this ensemble. When Bynum does come to the fore as a soloist, his stylistic lineage comes to bear. He has been favorably compared to Lester Bowie in the past, no small compliment to these ears. Bynum is a democratic leader, but when he does let off some brassy sparks, they are gorgeously gruff and demand one’s attention.
Other Stories [Three Suites] is a genre-eradicating statement of intent from an up and coming composer. Bynum has proved his improvisational mettle with Braxton on the aforementioned duets album, but next time hopefully we can hear Bynum the conceptualist paired with Bynum the soloist, all in one.