Taylor Ho Bynum's 'Ambiguity Manifesto' Is A Playground For Jazz Improvisers

14 hours ago
Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Cornet player and composer Taylor Ho Bynum first attracted notice as a close associate of his former teacher and ongoing collaborator, Anthony Braxton. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Bynum has come into his own the last few years with a series of projects involving like-minded players, some of them are on Bynum's new album for nine musicians, including newly minted MacArthur Fellow, guitarist Mary Halvorson.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR HO BYNUM 9-TETTE'S "NEITHER WHEN NOR WHERE")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Members of Taylor Ho Bynum's 9-tette working a groove. That's from Bynum's album "The Ambiguity Manifesto," where instruments or their roles may ambiguously merge. Tomeka Reid's cello blends with Ken Filiano's bowed bass and heel-plumb the depths with Stomu Takeishi's bass guitar and Bill Lowe's tuba or bass trombone. Bynum on cornet leads the four horns.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR HO BYNUM 9-TETTE'S "NEITHER WHEN NOR WHERE")

WHITEHEAD: Composer Taylor Ho Bynum doesn't give his players super hard material. The music is more about how the self-starters juggle his themes. Within the horn section or the rhythm section, players might branch off to run musical subroutines or might drop out to vary the texture. There's some good collective improvising, but I'm drawn to the moments when they all converge on a melody. Each player may phrase a tune their own way, as in the very early jazz bands, who echoed loose congregational church singing.

On this album's second half, the band plays exploded versions of the same material, blending compositions on occasion and holding them up to a funhouse mirror.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITEHEAD: Guitarist Mary Halvorson's squiggling embroidery is often close to the heart of the action. She's busy but always serves the greater music in a way that might recall the spiny guitars in afro-pop bands. This is from Taylor Ho Bynum's "Real/Unreal."

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR HO BYNUM 9-TETTE'S "REAL/UNREAL")

WHITEHEAD: Tomas Fujiwara on drums there. When the band takes a second pass at that composition, they stretch it out literally, slowing it down to mull over the details. Again, everyone sings the tune or sings around it in their own way and in their own time. Saxophonists Jim Hobbs and Ingrid Laubrock sweeten the backgrounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR HO BYNUM 9-TETTE'S "UNREAL/REAL (FOR OLD MUSIC)")

WHITEHEAD: There are some beautiful instrumental effects there a composer would take a while to dream up or write out. Those effects are more quickly realized by skilled improvisers who come prepared, like the crew on "The Ambiguity Manifesto." Taylor Ho Bynum compares his composing to designing a playground for improvisers, with different activity zones, but no set rules. That's an apt metaphor. All that play makes for serious fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR HO BYNUM 9-TETTE'S "UNREAL/REAL (FOR OLD MUSIC)")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "The Ambiguity Manifesto" by the Taylor Ho Bynum 9-tette. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Megan Phelps-Roper. Her grandfather founded the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, which preached that God hates gay people. The church also picketed the funerals of American soldiers. She left the church seven years ago in her mid-20s. Her new memoir is called "Unfollow: A Memoir Of Loving And Leaving The Westboro Baptist Church." I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERLIN RILEY'S "RUSH HOUR")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERLIN RILEY'S "RUSH HOUR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.