Given the stature within improvised music circles of Taylor Ho Bynum (trumpet), John Hébert (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums), any new release by these guys should be greeted with great interest because more times than not, that new release ends up being widely lauded. Somehow, all three made a record that dropped last month that escaped wide notice.
Continuum (2012) is actually the second album by this stealth supergroup called Book of Three, and their stealthy ways extend to the way they play their music. It’s very much in the ballpark of group improv out of the New York Downtown scene, but eschews the usual out-jazz fare of soloists plowing forward and counting on the rest of the band to catch up. In its place is a listening party: three musicians who are far more reactive, with each tirelessly tuned in to what the other two are doing.
“Comin’ On” is an abstract swing, where Bynum’s thoughtful little expressions brings to mind Booker Little. He and Hébert play out harmonic ideas that intersect more than they parallel each other, and Cleaver’s strategy here as on the entire record is to be subtly propulsive without the need to be loud and forceful. After lightly growling muted horn that begins “Aware of Vacuity,” a circular figure is settled upon from Hebert’s bass and Cleaver weaves a subtly attenuated pattern around it. Hebert plays a sorrowful but groove minded solo and later on, Bynum softly blows a rapid succession of notes.
Without being ostentatious about it, Bynum manipulates his trumpet to make all sorts of sounds from it not normally heard from this piece of brass; he makes his muted trumpet mimic a flute on “Open City,” uses a plunger to turn it into a growling trombone during “Journal Square Complications” and exhales long, dark notes during “Precoda” so low, it goes below Hébert’s bowed bass.
Continuum (2012) is ultimately a truly democratic encounter but if I had to pick a star, it’d be Hébert. It must already be a chore to link Bynum’s abstruse trumpet to the elusive rhythms of Cleaver’s drums, but he not only succeeds in doing it, he does it so effortlessly because he’s got real keen ears. In an understated way, his solos exhibit much character, such as the one he performs in “Comin’ On.” In this exposed setting, it becomes easier to understand why he’s become so in demand for sideman gigs and dates around NYC.
Group improvisation doesn’t have to get rowdy, and it’s usually during those quieter moments when a listener can get inside the minds of the musicians. On the barren landscape of Continuum (2012), much is revealed of the things that make all three among the current elite.
Purchase Continuum (2012) here.
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Continuum (2012) was released May 20 by Relative Pitch Records.
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