Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum is tightly connected to the legacy and sound of visionary composer and reedist Anthony Braxton—he studied under Braxton, has played under his leadership for decades, and serves as executive director of the Tri-Centric Arts Foundation, which administers Braxton’s prolific output. In his own music, though, Bynum has usually mapped his own path. He’s had a fruitful partnership with drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and he’s led an evolving number of medium-to-large ensembles, privileging strings in some and brass in others—such as the band on his most recent album, Enter the Plustet (Firehouse 12).
The opening moments of “Sleeping Giant,” the sprawling, episodic work that kicks off the album, remind me that Bynum has absorbed Braxton’s ideas, and not only as an interpreter and performer of the reedist’s thorny compositions. Over pointillistic brass bursts and Ken Filiano’s throbbing arco bass, Bynum blows puckered, razor-edged lines that toggle between abrasive abstraction and zigzagging virtuosity, their careening-yet-controlled energy echoing that of his mentor’s music.
Bynum’s remarkable 14-piece band—Fujiwara, Filiano, trumpeters Stephanie Richards and Nate Wooley, French horn player Vincent Chancey, bass trombonist and tuba player Bill Lowe, trombonist Steve Swell, reedists Jim Hobbs, Matt Bauder, and Ingrid Laubrock, violinist Jason Kao Hwang, and cellist Tomeka Reid, vibist Jay Hoggard, and guitarist Mary Halvorson—wends through a series of rapidly shifting patterns and rhythms, which the leader conducts using Braxton’s “Language Music” ideas. But around halfway through the 21-minute piece, a lovely, sashaying, R&B-kissed melody surfaces, and the band glides along on a surprisingly sentimental groove before heading off on another tangent.
The rhythmic drive of “Three (for Me We & Them)”—its title is an homage to the first big band Bynum ever saw, James “Jabbo” Ware & the Me We and Them Orchestra—feels thoroughly contemporary, but Bynum pushes his protean ensemble through a thrilling tour of jazz signposts from decades past. He cites Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, and Brotherhood of Breath (the spectacular big band led by South African pianist and composer Chris McGregor) as key points of reference. You can check out the ebullient piece below.
Ben Johnston, String Quartets Nos. 6, 7 & 8 (New World)
Maja S.K. Ratkje, Jon Wesseltoft, Camille Norment, and Per Gisle Galåen, Celadon (Important)
Gene Ammons & Dodo Marmarosa, Jug & Dodo (Prestige)
Otis G. Johnson, Everything—God Is Love ’78 (Numero Group/Holy Spirit)
Katharina Ernst & Martin Siewert, Also: Live at Wirr (Trost)