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Taylor Ho Bynum: Enter the PlusTet

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It might come as no surprise that Taylor Ho Bynum’s original work draws inspiration from Anthony Braxton and the late Bill Dixon, two of his musical mentors. The real head-scratcher arrives in the way these adventurous influences commingle with, in separate cases, the swing of big band and the soulful grooves of Prince. Even more impressive is the PlusTet, a “dream team” of 15 forward-thinking musicians that straddle freedom and composition with an unerring sense of taste.

In “Sleeping Giant,” short interjections from the ensemble give way to Nate Wooley’s trumpet smears and some collective whooping. More solos spread over a unique ostinato created by a blend of guitar, vibes, bass and drums. But halfway through, the group morphs into what Bynum calls a “purple hue,” evoking a Prince vibe. Even as the group again engages in more solos, the R&B-laden background makes perfect sense.

“Three (for Me We & Them)” tips the hat to Jabbo Ware’s Me We & Them Orchestra, a big band that included PlusTet member Bill Lowe (bass trombone, tuba). After a psychedelic solo by guitarist Mary Halvorson and a gruff bass trombone spot by Lowe, the ensemble takes up bluesy swing that argues it’s fluent in the tradition as well as the avant-garde.

“That Which Only … Never Before” takes its name from a paraphrased quote by Bill Dixon that encapsulated the approach of an improviser. In that spirit, Bynum opens with some Dixon-esque rasps on cornet, and cellist Tomeka Reid and alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs offer penetrating solos.

This band does its influences proud.

Originally Published