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02/27/12

Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet
Apparent Distance
Firehouse 12 Records

Distance is certainly an active concept for this fascinating album, which spends much of its time keeping its six excellent contributors in separate corners, bringing them into the mix one or two at a time to fill in the spaces between solo passages. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but every time you think you’re being cued for a forceful mantling of the troops—as with a burst of energy grounded in Ken Filiano’s charged bassline or a strutting swing passage—the spare voices restate their claim on the music.

Ultimately, the monologues and limited exchanges feel like responses to the opening round of questioning posed by Taylor Ho Bynum’s squealing, skronking, truth-seeking cornet. A few additional screech notes and horn squalls notwithstanding, the dominant tone is one of easy, shared reflection, whether voiced through the stately tuba and bass trombone lines of Bill Lowe, the languid sustained notes and Hawaiian-style lines of guitarist Mary Halvorson or the tart rising tones of alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs.

As a formal exercise, the four-part Apparent Distance is never less than compelling, creating a sense of pre-figured improvisation. A little less tension and a little more release might make the music stick to the ribs more. The intensity that kicks in down the stretch is squandered; assembled from commissioned pieces, this work seems open to further construction. Perhaps after the sextet has performed it more, a sequel could take their discussion to a more engaging, more realized place.

Originally published in January/February 2012
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