This two-disc release is the second of two volumes documenting the composition-meets-improvisation project steered and captained by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum. The leader notes that "while the materials within each section are pre-composed, the overall structure and order of Navigation is modular and improvisational," which accounts for the spontaneous yet entirely coherent feel of the session.
Right out of the dock, traces of Ellington and Mingus are provided by an alto sax/muted bass trombone/muted cornet statement (Jim Hobbs, Bill Lowe — who also doubles on tuba — and Bynum) that shapes up as a very nice intro, a braid of sound that keeps recurring through the 2 CDs. When the drums, bass and guitar kick in at the third minute the voyage shifts to a sultry bump-and-grind-cum-New Orleans-happy-dirge, and the whole set goes on to exhibit a roots-meets-avant-guard dialectic.
Bynum's plunger mute playing, while reminiscent of the tradition stretching from Freddie Keppard, Joe Oliver, Bubber Miley and Rex Stewart, is still its own delightful thing that echoes the past greats, but is coolly "now." The same can be said for Mary Halvorson's guitar that swings but in a way all her own, with a sound processed by effects that swerve the guitar lines in interesting ways, while the drums (Tomas Fujiwara and Chad Taylor, both of whom also double on vibraphone) and bass (Ken Filiano) journey sagely forward, bringing ideas of their own, as piece flows and bleeds into piece and the whole evolves in fresh and unpredictable ways.
This sonic adventure happens through compositional frameworks with odd titles like MANCH, MANCH-ISH, ZADE-WUK, KID-WUK and TRIST. There are in fact six movements (MANCH, ZADE, WUK, KID and TRIST) navigated (as per title of CD) at will, in an ad-lib fashion. As the leader writes in his liner notes: "Each movement has a markedly different sonic identity, with notational styles ranging from traditional to graphic to cartographic. "
The music also has some bebop moments as Jim Hobbs' alto sax takes some Parkeresque flights. Most characteristic, though, is the balance of improvised material and pre-composed sections, as in the writing in the interlude of TRIST, which has moments of infectious groove that recall some of the finest Brass Fantasy tracks. The judicious use of the improvised and the pre-determined and a creative approach to both makes for a very satisfying listen. While the music is obviously deeply informed by jazz idiom there is an outside-the-box, unprejudiced incorporation of sounds being themselves (as John Cage or Edgar Varese would have put it) making this release deserving of study by practitioners of the sister crafts of composition and improvisation, as the living breathing quality of sonic experience here is well worth learning from.
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