Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: Barefooted Town - David Binney

I’ve been wanting to check out David Binney’s work for a while.  I decided to review “Barefooted Town” rather than the more balleyhooed “Graylen Epicenter” because I read somewhere that the latter work had a larger ensemble and was heavy on composition, and I wanted to hear Binney in a more casual context with more improvisation.  (But I do love that title, “Graylen Epicenter,” whatever that’s about.)  As a matter of fortunate coincidence, Binney and another player on “Barefooted Town,” Ambrose Akinmusire, were prominent in the recent DownBeat 2012 Critics Poll, with Akinmusire winning for established trumpet player and Binney for Rising Star alto saxophonist.  (The poll was mentioned and linked to in the previous post.)  

“Barefooted Town” starts out with “Dignity,” which is more a full-blown jazz composition than a tune.  It has a quiet, quick section that alternates with a slower one using longer tones (Binney likes to mix things up in his writing), with Binney and Akinmusire in unison throughout.  Akinmusire commences the improvising with an elegant solo.  Binney then comes in with a full and dry sound and a strong approach, somewhat like Gary Bartz.  Binney doesn’t limit himself to patterns of notes; his lines are angular and full of rhythmic variety, including fast, Dolphy-esque arpeggios from the bottom of the horn to the altissimo range.  Late in the tune, Binney adds an interesting element to the composition by wordlessly vocalizing in unison with the horns on the melody.
“Seven Sixty” is just a sketch of a tune, with Binney beginning his solo soon after playing the melody.  His solo is smooth and fleet, mostly in double-time.  Akinmusire starts his solo slowly, but then he also displays rhythmic variety in his playing, jumping all over the range of the trumpet.  Pianist Dave Virelles makes his first solo appearance, choosing to play mostly clusters of chords throughout his solo instead of melodic lines.  “Edge of Seasons” slows things down, starting with a quiet solo by Eivind Opsvik on bass.  The tune then moves first into a gentle march section and then a more energetic one.  Virelles solos over the march rhythm, beginning with a single melodic line and then focusing on chords.  At this point in the recording, it’s becoming evident that these musicians are incredibly well suited for each other and for Binney’s music.  They all have fresh approaches to their instruments and a very compositional approach to improvisation.  After Virelles, Binney plays a probing solo of his own.  Overall, this composition has so much rhythmic and melodic variety that it has an orchestral, classical feel.

The title tune is a slow one, with drummer Dan Weiss starting things off with a quiet solo over a stately, dissonant piano and bass ostinato.  Mark Turner makes his first solo appearance on tenor over the ostinato with an abstract improvisation incorporating bursts of fast runs.  At the end of his solo he is joined by Akinmusire and what sounds like a choir of voices (recordings of Binney’s voice, I assume).  The vocal section is quite a surprise but is pretty and effective.  Binney then lightens things up with a more straightforward blowing tune, “Secret Miracle,” with Binney soloing effortlessly over tricky chord changes.  Akinmusire then plays a fine solo and Turner plays well, too, spending a lot of time in the tenor’s upper register.  Again, all these guys are really on the same page.  At the end of the tune, Binney vocalizes in unison with himself on alto.
“A Night Every Day” is a slower mid-tempo tune that begins with a contrapuntal section, the three horns each playing a different line, then coming together in unison, then separating again.   Turner does a fine job of integrating his altissimo lines seamlessly with those in the natural range of the tenor, displaying great control.  His is the only solo on this tune.  The recording ends with a slow ballad, “Once When She Was Here,” with just the altoist and the rhythm section.  Binney’s tone here is breathy and buzzy, and his solo is lovely.  While this last tune is a fine performance, I wish Binney had added one more tune with the full ensemble to involve the whole team; the recording isn’t very long at 55 minutes, and the music is so fine it seems even shorter.

For me, “Barefooted Town” was a good introduction to David Binney.  It’s clear from this recording that Binney, having written all seven pieces, is an excellent composer who takes interesting chances in his writing and gives it a lot of thought and effort.  And he is just as interesting, refreshing, and risk-taking in his improvising.  This was also a good introduction for me to Akinmusire, who is getting plenty of buzz these days (just look at that DownBeat Critics poll!).  I plan to hear a lot more of him.  Overall, this an excellent recording.           

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