When cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and his sextet finished their first set at the Jazz Gallery (November 9th), someone from the venue reached up to put a delicate framed photograph on the wall. “Did we knock that down?” Bynum joked, but the thought was plausible: his band rose to room-shaking levels, particularly during the feral alto saxophone solos of Jim Hobbs. In some of the written passages, however, Hobbs brought a flute-like sensitivity, meshing with Bynum and tuba/bass trombonist Bill Lowe in moments full of warmth and subtle color. (The horn players all wore fedoras, which was part of the vibe.) The work, “Navigation (Possibility Abstract XVII),” lasted the full set and would change significantly in the next set (“Possibility Abstract XVIII,” Bynum explained). This is the method of Navigation (Firehouse 12), the sextet’s new release, which spans two CDs and two LPs yet includes just one piece, played four times. Each reading has common elements but a radically different outcome. A band needs a strong identity to pull this off, but with guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Tomas Fujiwara completing the lineup, strength was no issue. The Halvorson-Lowe pairing was rich — Bynum was smart to have them play unison lines, fresh and unexpected. Fujiwara balanced complete freedom with undulating groove and never overpowered the room. Filiano offered not just low-end foundation but a contrapuntal voice, introducing new sounds throughout the journey. (David R. Adler)
Since the inception of Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band, pianist and cofounder Jon Cowherd has forged a distinctive sound as one of its principal composers. With Mercy (ArtistShare), Cowherd’s debut as a leader, he gives that poignant, reflective sound an even fuller spotlight. More than ever, he also shows his range and hard-swinging fervor as a pianist, as was evident at Dizzy’s Club (November 11th), where he took the stage with guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Rudy Royston. The quartet played with such fire and polish that one didn’t miss the bigger names on the album itself (Bill Frisell, John Patitucci, Brian Blade). The compositions were elaborate and beautifully conceived, beginning with the uptempo “The Columns” and moving right into the sweeping three-part “Mercy Suite.” The tension-filled “Newsong” began as a Royston feature but also gave Moreno and the leader room to stretch. Cowherd ended with a nod to his New Orleans past (he’s a Kentucky-born Loyola alum), offering the gospel-tinged “Poor Folks,” an Allen Toussaint number from 1971. This was the quartet at its rockingest — one riff sort of brought to mind Deep Purple. But just before that, “Surrender’s Song” highlighted Cowherd’s harmonic approach at its most moving and poetic. He and Moreno voiced the slow rubato theme in flowing unison, evoking a lonely mood that contrasted with the set’s more aggressive New York moments. Hopefully it’s all a sign of more Cowherd-led projects in years to come. (DA)
As a student of Lennie Tristano and a noted colleague of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, tenor saxophonist Ted Brown provides a living link to the Tristano school — an intriguing area in jazz history, somewhere in the interstices between bop and “cool.” Brown turned 85 the day before his gig at the Drawing Room (Dec. 2), so he arrived ready to celebrate in his calm and imperturbable way. His co-leader for the first set was Brad Linde, a young DC-based tenorist and Brown disciple, who played with distinction on Brown’s “Smog Eyes” and Tristano’s “317 East 32nd Street,” not to mention the standards “Broadway” and “My Melancholy Baby.” Pianist Michael Kanan, who runs the Drawing Room as a rehearsal space and concert venue, joined the band and juiced up the harmony, adding his own inventive spark. After a break, attention turned to Brown with cornetist Kirk Knuffke, bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Matt Wilson. Harmony was king in this quartet, even with no piano: Knuffke and Brown snaked their way through the changes of “Featherbed” (based on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”) and applied the Tristano logic in minor keys (“Jazz of Two Cities”) and waltz time (“Dig-It”), all from their new SteepleChase disc Pound Cake. Knuffke had a way of dancing into his melodies, as if striving to embody each phrase physically. Brown played his trickiest heads without a flaw, and his solos, while not as agile as way back in the day, were stamped with pure individuality. (David R. Adler)
Though it entailed gathering musicians from various parts of the globe, Canadian clarinet master François Houle did the right thing by playing ShapeShifter Lab (Dec. 2) with the exact lineup from his brilliant Songlines release Genera. The frontline of Houle, trombonist Samuel Blaser and cornetist/flugelhornist Taylor Ho Bynum allowed for endless color mutations and finely rendered written parts. Benoît Delbecq kept a fairly low profile on piano and prepared piano, but he endowed the music with a wealth of harmonic and percussive twists. Bassist Michael Bates and drummer Harris Eisenstadt pointed the way from the airiest rubato abstraction to driving, meticulously placed rhythms. The set began slow, with the dark lyricism of “Le concombre de Chicoutimi,” but Houle was thinking in terms of a long medley: Bates soon segued to the uptempo line of “Essay No. 7,” then joined Eisenstadt for a bass/drums interlude that brought the band into the emphatic, slow-grooving “Guanara.” Houle was blowing two clarinets at once by the time the medley was finished. On the swing-based “Albatros” he played through half a clarinet, connecting his mouthpiece directly to the lower joint. That is the essence of Houle’s approach: wildly unstable, expressionistic elements vie with straightforward and undeniable virtuosity. The dueling plunger shouts of Bynum and Blaser on “Mu-Turn Revisited” offered another vivid example. (DA)
I have an article in the jazz issue of City Arts, on the topic of maintaining careers in jazz and improvised music. My focus? Taylor Ho Bynum, Steve Lehman and Matana Roberts. Other worthy contributions in this issue from Ernest Barteldes, Kurt Gottschalk, Emilie Pons and section editor Howard Mandel.