Taylor Ho Bynum's "The Ambiguity Manifesto" Out September 20

Seth Rosen, Pusherpr.com

A new album by Taylor Ho Bynum, director of Dartmouth's Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, features music that was premiered and developed at Dartmouth's Hopkins Center for the Arts in a residency and concert in February 2018.

On September 20, 2019, Firehouse 12 Records will release The Ambiguity Manifesto, the latest album from composer, cornetist and bandleader Taylor Ho Bynum. The music is designed to blur the lines between composition and improvisation, between individual and ensemble, between genres, timbres, and instrumentations; it celebrates the beauty and necessity of the unknown and the indefinable, the enigmatic and the subversive.

The work draws upon lessons learned in Bynum’s 20-plus years of experience with some of the innovators of 20th century creative music – Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, and Bill Dixon – yet also uniquely reflects the current generation and current artistic moment. The band is stylistically multi-lingual, equally comfortable inside groove or abstraction, playing acoustically or with electronics, dealing with a complex rhythmic constructions or navigating graphic scores. They draw experience from different generations (with musicians in the group born in every decade from the 1940s to the 1980s) and different artistic communities (from New York, Boston, Chicago, and New Haven), yet come together with a strong sense of collective identity and purpose. 

Bynum describes this release as the concluding chapter of an "accidental trilogy" starting with the four album set Navigation (2013) featuring his Sextet and 7-tette, and continuing with Enter the PlusTet (2017) which featured his 15-piece creative orchestra. "I feel like this completes a body of music I've been working on with a similar set of principles around composition and form and ensemble playing, building off of relationships within a strong core group of collaborators but mixing up the size and instrumentation of the group a little bit each time. The trust between the members of the band has allowed me to take some chances – in terms of structure and notation, and in the freedom I can give the musicians to explore the materials individually, or in smaller subsets, without me having to direct it. I love the fact that I'm regularly surprised within my own compositions, by what the musicians do with the materials I give them."

The 9-tette on this album sits somewhere between the bands heard on those previous recordings, a new group of old friends, light on its feet and rich in sonic possibility. The ensemble includes all the members of Bynum's Sextet – Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone), Bill Lowe (bass trombone and tuba), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), Ken Filiano (acoustic bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) – and adds close collaborators (and PlusTet members) Ingrid Laubrock (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Tomeka Reid (cello). The newest addition Stomu Takeishi rounds out the group on electric bass guitar. The instrumentation intentionally features a wealth of pairings/doubles/mirrors: high/low duos in the brass, reeds, electric and acoustic strings; four horns and four strings; four treble clef and four bass clef instruments. All of these groupings pivot around the rhythmic anchor of Fujiwara's drum-kit.

Available in a deluxe double-LP package, on CD, and on all major streaming platforms, the recording features seven compositions across its seventy minutes. The first half of the album lays out the material: the tight pocketed groove of "neither when nor where", the searchingly abstract "enter ally", a sweeping dedication to the late author Ursula K. Le Guin on "real/unreal", and finally, the complex interplay of the mysteriously titled "(g)host(aa/ab)".

On the second half of the album, these compositions are deconstructed, refracted, mirrored, hybridized - opening up to allow the musicians free play within their frameworks. Bynum says "I often describe composing for improvisers like building a playground, with slides and swings and climbing structures, where you offer opportunities for play without defining how a kid is going to play on it. This time I feel like all the components are modular – so you can hang the swing from the monkey bars, or bury a see-saw inside the sandbox."
The ensemble will be celebrating the release at three concerts in the Northeast this summer and fall the full 9-tette at the Jazz Gallery in NYC on August 16, and the pared-down Sextet in concerts in Boston (September 21) and at Firehouse 12 in New Haven (November 8). "I certainly hope to get some more performance opportunities with this amazing group of musicians, but as a composer I plan to take a break from writing for this kind of mid-sized formation, this will probably be the band’s last recording in the immediate future. I'm actually really satisfied with what we've done over the course of these albums, which is an unusual feeling as an artist! So right now I'm giving myself a different challenge, working on something ridiculously big - an oratorio for orchestra and big band, plus a couple of vocal soloists and small choir. But even in something that massive I think all the work I do is going to be informed by the sounds and experiences I've had with this band."

Behind The Ambiguity Manifesto - Taylor Ho Bynum 9-tette