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Taylor Ho Bynum 9-Tette: The Ambiguity Manifesto (Firehouse 12)

A review of the the cornetist-led nonet's latest project

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Taylor Ho Bynum 9-tette, The Ambiguity Manifesto
Cover of The Ambiguity Manifesto by the Taylor Ho Bynum 9-tette

Taylor Ho Bynum’s 2013 release Navigation consisted of four different versions of the album-length title composition. So it should come as no surprise that The Ambiguity Manifesto features three compositions that each receive two different examinations by the cornetist’s 9-tette, along with one additional piece. Of course, this is not a case of master and alternate takes. The group refracts the original guidelines that Bynum, a longtime Anthony Braxton associate, has composed, coming up with something vastly different each time.

A surprise does come, however, with “Neither When Nor Where,” which opens the album with a groove that feels a lot like “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” Bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi and guitarist Mary Halvorson add to the vamp while cellist Tomeka Reid and acoustic bassist Ken Filiano offer some vicious bowing. Unlike the Bitches Brew track, this one includes a bridge and a fully developed melody. “Enter (G) Neither,” its counterpart, lasts three times longer, referencing the melody only after 13 minutes of free flight. As on most of this album, the two brass, two saxophones, and strings never clutter up the sound, maintaining direction even if a tempo doesn’t exist. This focus works especially well in “(G)host(aa/ab),” a 17-minute suite track that pairs different players off in free improvisations; the climax arrives when Bynum and alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs play an elliptical melody that comes off like a mutated canon, ending in a slow fade.

With Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Bill Lowe (bass trombone/tuba), and Ingrid Laubrock (soprano and tenor saxophones) completing the group, Bynum continues to intrigue listeners with a work that has earthy qualities even when it heads into the stratosphere.

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Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at