Taylor Ho Bynum - The Ambiguity Manifesto

Label: Firehouse 12 Records, 2019

Personnel - Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Ingrid Laubrock: tenor and soprano saxophones; Jim Hobbs: alto saxophone; Bill Lowe: trombone; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Tomeka Reid: cello; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Ken Filiano: acoustic bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

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Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, a former disciple of Anthony Braxton, is a respected creative voice in the modern jazz world, having released several recordings in configurations that range from duo to big band. His new album, The Ambiguity Manifesto, flaunts that irresistible craftsmanship that only a visionary can achieve. To play both the rigorously written and improvised parts of his music, he hired nine of his favorite players and called the group 9-tette.

The opener, “Neither When Nor Where”, funks with a magnetic beat, surrounded by sleek violin, cello, and bowed bass until the horn players arrive. Their attention centers on a repetitive riff we hear throughout, and all coheres beautifully, with guitarist Mary Halvorson’s gulping sounds and drop downs mixing with the controlled horn stretches. This same riff can be spotted again in the last section of “Enter (g) Neither”, an atmospheric experimentation impregnated with avant-garde conventions, striking counterpoint, and attractive odd-metered grooves. Ho Bynum extracts multiple timbres from his cornet, including air sounds and breath attacks, whining and imploring alongside Stomu Takeishi’s moderate electric bass and Tomas Fujiwara’s rattling percussion.

Anter Ally” and “Ally Enter” are mirrors. The former consists in abstract conversations between several instruments, while the latter is a static exercise showcasing deeply hued saxophone sounds, raw cornet staccatos, and guitar loops and effects. Similarly, “Real/Unreal” and the closing “Unreal/Real” form another pairing. The former, dedicated to the late American writer Ursula K. Le Guin, is set in motion with brushed drums over which droning sounds of different order emerge. This alert, ominous mood flips to a quieter chamber passage headed by guitar, strings, and woodwinds, without jeopardizing any of its interest or fascination. Unexpectedly, the ambiguity is narrowed once again and the group accommodates an ecstatic, melodious, and accessible sort of indie-pop-meets-world-music that comes peppered with Halvorson’s electronic manipulations. “Unreal/Real” (for Old Music) feels like a nostalgic contemplation that, notwithstanding, refuses to abandon the modern irreverence thanks to Ingrid Laubrock’s expressive staccatos on the soprano and the cry in tone delivered by alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs.

The 17-minute “G(host) (aa/ab)” initially resonates with electronics and the sound of mallets hitting the different parts of the drum kit. It remains in a suspended mode for a while, almost undecided where to go, with Halvorson venturing outside while a panoply of sounds surrounds her. The group adds seasoning and texture, creating chaotic sonic clouds that serve Laubrock’s pungent growls. Inside these exciting passages, we find unisons between guitar and electric bass supporting Ho Bynum’s rapid-fire lecture, Laubrock’s soprano departures getting across Bill Lowe’s resilient muted trombone shouts, and a fulminating indie rock noise section led by Halvorson and embellished with cacophonous remarks from the horns. It then segues into a rocking 4/4 groove with multiple ostinatos.

Eccentric and provocative at times, easygoing and accessible at others, this album finds this nonet of players interacting with a well-developed sense of empathy and genre-defying creativity.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - G(host) (aa/ab) ► 05 - Enter (g) Neither ► 07 - Unreal/Real (for Old Music)