Jazzed: David Binney

Painting New Sounds On A Moving Canvas

Mel Minter
4 min read
David Binney
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The back and one inside panel of alto saxophonist David Binney’s latest recording, Third Occasion, are adorned with an artfully arranged collection of Binney photographs taken at a wide variety of places and times. Sweeping landscapes, eccentrically cropped portraits, still lifes—each reveals a painterly sensibility, with a sure sense of line, color and form. Taken as a whole, each collection offers an engagingly episodic journey through a life rich in experience, undertaken with an open, visceral connection to the mysteries and delights of being.

Third Occasion, like previous Binney offerings, delivers the same sort of experience, and on Thursday at the Outpost, the David Binney Quartet—with Craig Taborn (piano), Eivind Opsvik (bass) and Brian Blade (drums)—will take Albuquerque on an excursion that’s likely to provide musical images worth framing.

Hook and Vamp

Moving from California to New York City when he was 19 to study with Phil Woods, David Liebman and George Coleman, Binney made a mark working with the big bands of Gil Evans and Maria Schneider, among others. In 1989, he won an NEA grant to record his first CD,
Point Game, and since then, his taut and tangy tone has appeared on nearly 20 projects as a leader and with the groups Lost Tribe and Lan Xang, both of which he co-founded. He’s also appeared on and produced numerous recordings for other artists.

Along the way, this much-sought-after musician has developed some distinguishing earmarks in his jazz compositions, including the use of hooks and vamps as irresistible as anything you’ll hear in pop music.

“Sometimes I really set up a hook so that it’s the focal point of a whole tune,” Binney says. “Vamp and hook—that probably comes from me listening to a lot of pop music.”

A relatively simple vamp can function like a sort of moving canvas against which soloists can paint ever more elaborate and exploratory structures.
“A Love Supreme is a huge, long vamp—I mean forever,” he notes.

“When you give people melody and hook and something really strong to grab on to … you can sort of give them anything else, and they’ll accept it,” he says. “I don’t limit myself by any means to writing tunes that vamp like that, but sometimes I really like that kind of simplicity and clarity. Not everything has to be complicated.”

A World of Influences

Complicated or not, Binney’s jazz compositions also reflect a wide variety of influences—contemporary Argentinean classical music, American pop, free jazz, Brazilian music, electronica, rock and roll. Both as a composer and player, Binney has drawn from many sources to create a highly expressive, highly individual oeuvre. It sounds at once familiar and new, ranging from the abstract to the concrete, the simple to the not at all simple. Not just in jazz, either: He’s working on a through-composed classical composition for strings—sans hooks, vamps and improvisational flights.

As a jazz player, Binney’s long, winding lines are welcome snares for the ear, set with technical expertise. His command of the instrument’s different timbres and registers, his ability to play graceful, well-articulated lines at light speed, and his unerring sense of dynamics allow him to give full voice to his musical ideas. His awareness of the other players sometimes contributes to almost magical moments of concentricity and synchronicity. Of course, when you’re playing with the likes of Taborn, Opsvik and Blade—“I’ve played with all of them for years,” says Binney—that’s almost to be expected.

David Binney Quartet

Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE, 268-0044)

Thursday, Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $20, $15 members and students, all-ages

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