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Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet - Apparent Distance

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Artist: Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet

Album: Apparent Distance

Label: Firehouse 12

Review date: Nov. 23, 2011

Trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum has been quite busy of late, and nowhere is his growth better illustrated than on Apparent Distance, a suite of four movements full of diversity and constant surprise.

The suite’s beginning is contained in its ending, or is it the other way around? “Shift” opens proceedings with a trumpet solo of descending cascades, existing somewhere between Peter Evans and Bill Dixon, before Bynum, trombone and tuba virtuoso Bill Lowe and alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs engage in a startlingly beautiful trio, contrapuntal and majestic. The final movement, “Layer,” finds Bynum in cascade mode again, he and Lowe accompanied by drummer Tomas Fujiwara in near-military cadence, until guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Ken Filiano ratchet up the power and crank up the heat.

What transpires between is not easily described, traversing everything from free fusion to some sort of New Thing chamber music. “Shift” and “Source” are unified by this chamber approach; listen as “Strike”’s heavy groove vanishes, leaving Hobbs and Halvorson in frenetic and pointillistic dialogue. Despite deep interaction, individual contributions are plentiful, and there is a commendable amount of space left for each member of the group to stretch out. Solos are sometimes taken over constantly shifting rhythmic structures, dramatically increasing the excitement factor. Halvorson’s opening cadenza on the album’s epic “Source” drives the point home; she swirls, runs, warps and tremolos her way along the circuitous path Bynum constructs for her. There’s also Hobbs’s increasingly dizzying solo on “Strike,” chaneling bebop full tilt as Halvorson provides airy support, and Lowe’s tuba solo on “Strike,” mixed with vocalizations, is a wonder of droning intensity.

At no point do individuals obscure contributions from their sympathetic bandmates. Fujiwara and Filiano are certainly one of the most solid rhythm sections laying it down today. They can definitely groove, as “Strike” demonstrates, but they’re most interesting when the composition demands constant shifts in rhythm. Check out their support on “Source” to hear them at their transparent best. All of this is helped by an excellent recording, one that packs a punch when necessary but allows for the subtlest of dynamics. Those distorted Halvorson moments are shattering, but Filiano’s gorgeous arco is treated with equal care. As with every Firehouse 12 release, the mix is superb.

Apparent Distance is the sextet’s most fully realized effort to date. The addition of tuba evokes shades of Henry Threadgill’s recent work, but the parallel stops there. Bynum’s compositional language is his own.

By Marc Medwin

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