Saturday, November 22, 2008

Taylor Ho Bynum & Spider Monkey Strings

Firehouse 12/New Haven

If you are wondering why Taylor is stuffing his face, there is a very simple explanation that I would be happy to share with you: he has been busy, busy, busy! While his recent activity as a sideman and a leader is too abundant to list here, that fact that Taylor still has not unpacked after moving back to New England several months ago gives you an idea of what I am talking about.

Last night, my wife Brigid and I drove down to New Haven and caught the first set of music from Spider Monkey Strings at Firehouse 12. The venue is so ideal for deep listening: a small room, acoustically designed (and used) for recording that holds no more than 75 audience members. The occasion was a local premier of new work, Madeline Dreams, based on a novel written by Taylor's sister, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, entitled Madeline is Sleeping.

The music was a delight, a integrated blending of Taylor's influences and current stance in the music. Lyrical through-composed passages seamlessly flowed into guided improvisation, moving with a delightfully complex but clear polyphony. He really has understood Ellington's mandate around selection of instrumentalists and deployment of individual voice as a means of orchestration.

The big surprise for me was hearing the newest member of the ensemble, Kyoko Kitamura. Her role in the new work was operatic but her delivery, tone and timbre were coming from a different source: clear tone, limited usage of vibrato, seemingly-perfect pitch (this without the traditional use of guide tones!), wide range and clear enunciation of the text. What sealed the deal for me was when the band kicked into a twenties Ellington composition. Kyoko played Ivy Anderson to Taylor's Bubber Miley and brought the house down!

Today, Taylor and his crew spent the day recording this music for release on Firehouse 12 Records. Tomorrow they will be in Boston at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Taylor and his colleagues exhibited a truly modern conception, and were all non-genre-impaired. It doesn't get any better than this!

Image of Taylor at home by Rachel Bernsen, his wonderful wife.

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