The first unexpected moment on David Binney’s continually surprising Graylen Epicenter comes in an extended passage on the opening track, “All of Time.” Against a brusque, oddly repeating six-note phrase by the horn section that initially makes you think your CD player is stuck, dual drummers Brian Blade and Dan Weiss engage in a graceful, melodic, sweeping pas de deux. Pianist Craig Taborn further energizes things with his darting lines, and then the piece goes quiet for a piano interlude before Binney re-stokes the song’s lyrical urgency. “If I could only see you/If I could only touch you,” he sings again and again, his voice full of desperate longing.
With its contemporary melodies, avant edges and minimalist measures, its ostinatos and rubato passages and even rock operatics, Graylen Epicenter never stays in one place long. Binney has all kinds of weapons to add to his heat-seeking alto saxophone and charged soprano: Gretchen Parlato’s wonderful wordless vocals, nicely played down in the mix; Chris Potter’s tenor, which excitingly tangles with the leader’s alto on “Terrorists and Movie Stars”; guitarist Wayne Krantz, who provides electric and acoustic textures; and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who is entrusted with the album’s resounding last notes.
Other offbeat touches include the classical-style horn and vocal arrangement on “Same Stare, Different Thought,” bassist Eivind Opsvik’s eerie bowed introduction to the shadowy “From This Far,” and more dual-drumming dominance on “Any Years Costume,” on which postboppish harmonies yield to wide-open piano and trumpet exchanges. It may be easy to compare parts of Graylen Epicenter to other works, but as a whole it exists in its own unique sphere.