David Binney’s ambitious release on his own label earlier this year, Graylen Epicenter, drew even more praise than usual from critics and fellow musicians. And this new one from Criss Cross is another winner for the much admired but largely unsung alto saxophonist and composer.
The top-flight, mostly younger players Binney has assembled for Barefooted Town-Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, David Virelles on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Dan Weiss on drums-seem happy to keep the emphasis on Binney’s complex compositions rather than their own soloing prowess. There is impressive blowing throughout the disc, especially on the high-energy opening pieces “Dignity” and “Seven Sixty.” Akinmusire and the saxes cut loose on “Secret Miracle,” and Weiss maintains a protean brilliance throughout. But the focus stays remarkably centered on ensemble work and Binney’s music. Virelles takes a strong solo on “The Edge of the Seasons” and adds luster to the quieter, more balladic “A Night Every Day,” for example, but dutifully repeats a chord throughout the title cut for hypnotic effect. And Akinmusire has no problem allowing his trumpet to be employed simply for color elsewhere.
Binney’s compositions, meanwhile, are serious without being off-putting. He supplies his own wordless vocals on three of the tracks, weaves melodic patterns with his three horns and supplies them with complicated unison lines, and shifts among tricky meters at will. For all the complexity and experimentation, however, his work maintains both passion and an engaging lyricism. This isn’t casual listening, by any means. But it is a reminder that forward-looking writing can be palatable.