Live Reviews: Dave Binney Quartet

Dave Binney (alto saxophone), Craig Taborn (piano), Scott Colley (bass), Brian Blade (drums) / Whelan’s, Dublin / 12 May 2008

Over the last few months, music fans here have been treated to a steady flow of visiting artists who, in one way or another, are expanding the range and texture of the jazz tradition. Among others, drummer Han Binnink, cellist Erik Friedlander, and guitarist Brad Shepik delivered Irish performances that attest to the health and diversity of the current international scene, from Shepik’s Balkan-inspired lingua franca to Friedlander’s technically astonishing solo journey through America, inspired by his photographer father.

The Dave Binney Quartet added to the season’s riches with a short Irish tour in May that finished in Dublin with a powerhouse display by some of the finest talent the New York scene has to offer. Each member of this group is one of the best in the business, and collectively they play with verve and sympathy that come from long association and mutual musical goals.

As a player, Binney has terrific technique and a dark, reedy tone reminiscent of Gary Bartz. Though his studio output includes many fine examples of mainstream swinging (he has recorded tunes by Ellington, Monk and Shorter), in concert he features his own writing, which moves between the elegiac and the ecstatic and draws on a rich variety of contexts, including rock and world music.

The Dublin show featured long, episodic compositions, with idiosyncratic arrangements and plenty of room for improvisation. Like Shorter, Binney likes rhythmic surprise and memorable melodies. His tunes tend to start ruminatively, building on Craig Taborn’s remarkable piano textures and leading to extended byplay between instruments that is quite different from the classic sequencing of jazz solos.

The segmented, contemplative ‘Gesturecalm’ leaned heavily on Scott Colley, who, like Dave Holland, fills a room with his ringing bass lines. Taborn, who never seems to run out of ideas, shone on ‘London’ and ‘Toronto’, tunes from Binney’s recording Cities and Desire, an ‘aural travelogue’ that documents cities that have become regular stops for him over the years. It’s hard to see (or hear) how these tunes suggest actual places, but they certainly work as compositions, thoughtfully structured, with open-ended solo passages that always fit with the writing.

Whether repeating a simple phrase or playing high-speed arpeggios, Binney’s alto sits on top of his rhythm section very comfortably. Throughout the evening, Brian Blade showed why he is the drummer of choice for so many – tasteful, responsive, with huge power that was all the more evident for his consistent restraint. The music never felt forced, yet was always fresh and challenging. Though it took Binney a while to warm up, he ended with a bang. His encore, ‘Last Minute’, a simple post-bop tune full of spirited call-and-response trade-offs, generated real heat and left the audience roaring with approval.

Published on 1 July 2008

Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.

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