Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet & 7-Tette: Navigation

An intriguing study in variations, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum’s Navigation features four different takes of the extended title tune by his excellent, closely knit working sextet-two recorded live and two in the studio with Chad Taylor as second percussionist. The music, which breaks down into distinct sections that can be played in any order (or not played), ranges from shimmering spatial investigations to guttural New Orleans blues to wide-open improvising. But for all that stylistic activity, and the purposeful silences between sections, there’s a pleasing flow to these 40- and 50-minute performances.

As on its fine previous album, Apparent Distance, the sextet includes alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, bass trombonist/tuba player Bill Lowe, guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer/vibraphonist Tomas Fujiwara. You can feel the ease with which the musicians play off each other’s strengths as they break down into subgroups, either to provide support for a soloist (Bynum is in particularly fine form) or to create their own edgy, self-contained moments. Some of those moments, such as a soulful burst of Memphis-like horns, come out of the blue; others, such as a jaggedly intense segment fed by Halvorson’s hot-wired notes and plummy chords, hit the spot of our expectations.

Filiano is frequently the heart of the band’s sound, with his rapturous bowing and incisive plucked notes which, combined with Lowe’s deep tones, provide a potent bottom. The studio performances have no less intensity than the live tracks, though the doubling of drums and vibes enhances the texture. As smartly conceived as Navigation is, the music can’t be charted until it stops. But all hands on deck couldn’t be more confident that they’re headed in the right direction.