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  • Glenn Siegel

New Band, New Sound: Taylor Ho Bynum's JAK4

The careers of musicians constantly twist and turn. Surges and droughts in productivity, job opportunities outside of music, family obligations, health issues, fiscal constraints and many other factors all impact the creative trajectory of artists. In the case of cornetist and composer Taylor Ho Bynum, changes included a move to rural Vermont and a hiatus of five years as a bandleader.


Ho Bynum has taught at Dartmouth since 2017 but has remained quite active as a sideman. He resumed his long history of band leading this past week as he led his JAK4 quartet on a small tour that included a Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares concert at Holyoke Media on May 29, with subsequent stops in Boston and Firehouse 12 in New Haven. The band: Allison Burik, bass clarinet, Jacqueline Kerrod, harp, Ken Filiano, bass, and Ho Bynum, took 55 of us on a journey filled with sonorous twists and stylistic turns.


Setting up in front of an impressive array of percussion instruments, (the MIFA Victory Players were rehearsing for their Friday and Saturday performances of “Puerto Abierto”), Ho Bynum’s quartet delivered a discursive, dream-like 50 minute recital that highlighted the immense musical abilities of all assembled.


Playing cornet, a recently acquired flugelhorn and a rarely heard double bell trumpet that he had custom altered, Ho Bynum had lots of tone colors to choose from. He used a variety of mutes (including a bucket hat, a funnel and a piece of tin foil) that helped him mitigate the cut-through quality of his instruments. In fact, the sound balance of this all acoustic set was close to perfect, although Kerrod’s harp was occasionally lost when the band played at full throttle. Ho Bynum told me he relished the chance to play at reduced volume and mentioned there are certain techniques that are only possible when playing quietly.


Now 49 years old, Ho Bynum has already led a remarkable life in music. After studying with Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan, Ho Bynum led his mentor’s Tri-Centric Foundation for 15 years. He has recorded over three dozen recordings as a leader or co-leader, has written for The New Yorker, Jazz Times, Point of Departure and Sound American, and with Nick Lloyd, co-founded Firehouse 12 Records. He has completed epic bicycle tours through New England and the west coast from Vancouver, BC to Tijuana, Mexico, playing gigs along the way. I first met him in September, 2010 on his NE bicycle tour, when he stopped in Amherst to play at Mt. Pollux, before performing with Braxton at a UMass Magic Triangle concert . Those experiences have honed both his administrative and musical skills.


Although Ho Bynum had relationships with each of his bandmates, they did not meet each other before the start of this tour. Under Ho Bynum’s steady but light touch, I’m sure their quick coherence will deepen over time.


Kerrod and Ho Bynum have a recent duo recording, Simple Ways Such Self, and her solo record, 17 Days in December, was voted Best Debut Record of 2021 in the New York City Jazz Record. She comes from the classical music world, having studied in her hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa and later at Yale. Her work with the International Contemporary Ensemble, Wet Ink, and Alarm Will Sound has solidified her contemporary music bona fides, and she been improvising in various contexts with Braxton, including a duo recording, Duo (Bologna) 2018. On Wednesday, she played the chordal role typically handled by piano, guitar or vibraphone, while fully engaging with the ensemble. The flat floor space of Holyoke Media made sight lines difficult, so it was impossible for most of us to see her foot work on the seven pedals altering her instrument’s pitch, but her hands caressing and attacking the harp’s 47 strings were a sight to behold. I would have liked to have heard an unaccompanied solo or an extended duo with one of her peers, so we could have fully absorbed the unique sound of her instrument.


We heard Allison Burik playing alto sax and bass clarinet last year at the Institute For the Musical Arts as part of Mali Obomsawin’s sextet. In this more intimate context they had room to stretch out, and they played assertively with a full range of expression. Like the harp, the bass clarinet is not part of the typical jazz ensemble, making the evening even more special. Their hook up with Filiano’s bass provided deep low register vibrations, and their solos invoked echoes of Eric Dolphy and David Murray, masters of the bass clarinet. Now living in Montreal, Burik spent years in Boston earning degrees at Berklee and New England Conservatory. Their recent solo work, Realm, employs electronics to create both earthly and alien soundscapes.


Ken Filiano is, quite simply, one of the most creative and dynamic bass players working today. Whether rubbing his instrument’s upper bout to create other worldly sounds, inserting knitting needles between strings to alter the timbre, accompanying his notes with vocals, or simply swinging his ass off, Filiano is the complete package. His performance was riveting and it was hard to take my eyes off him. He’s back in the Valley on July 26 with Anders Griffen’s Quartet, and again on October 6 with Joseph Daley’s Tonal Colors Trio.


Throughout the concert, the musicians flashed visual cues inviting colleagues to return to previously covered composed material, cues that could be accepted, ignored or deconstructed. It gave the improvised proceedings shape and also an element of fluidity and unpredictability. In the hands of this band of seasoned collaborators, the results were exhilarating and full of surprise, and reflected the flexuous path of its leader.







The Creativity Never Stops: Dan Weiss Trio

Even though our Jazz Shares season was chock full when drummer Dan Weiss asked if we’d be interested in hosting his trio, I immediately said “yes”. After all, he was proposing a concert with alto saxo


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