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Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: The Middle Picture

For a guy who claims membership in Cecil Taylor’s large ensemble and several of Anthony Braxton’s groups, Taylor Ho Bynum is a surprisingly accessible musician. The Brooklyn-based cornetist avoids many of the avant-garde’s hoarier clichés, opting instead for a clipped-and-breathy style that evokes the breeziest of explorers, melody-minded musicians such as Don Cherry and Lester Bowie. On both The Middle Picture, a sextet recording, and True Events, a duo with drummer Tomas Fujiwara, Bynum serves first and foremost as an anchor. He may emit the occasional squeak or skronk, but he never lets the performances drift too far into the unknown.

Of the two recordings, the sextet record is the most distinctive. Bynum’s band-which includes Fujiwara, a pair of electric guitarists, a saxophonist-clarinetist and a bassist-violist-is like no other outfit around. The disc’s two trio tracks suggest that guitarist Mary Halvorson, a member of both bands, plays a big part in the sextet’s unique aesthetic. Her nimble fingers move in Monkish shapes, creating lines that signify freedom without any of the unpleasantness that often accompanies the term. Her angular approach is nothing like Bynum’s. Yet somehow it all comes together in an arresting group sound. Subtract Halvorson from Bynum’s trio and you’re left with the duo that appears on True Events. Like the sextet and trio, the team of Bynum and Fujiwara presents a version of free jazz that even conservative listeners might find inoffensive. This is the setting that best represents the breadth of Bynum’s chops, and, to his credit, he imbues each of these nine sketches with its own identity.

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