Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 5, 2007

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
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Bernard Dubé
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Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
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Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone

Montreal Jazz Festival 2006 EMI Classics







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: DAVID BINNEY
© Marcel Dubois

We all know what to expect from the big names in jazz – Keith Jarrett, John Scofield, Diana Krall – which is why we’re never surprised when we get what we expect. What truly surprises are the concerts we attend without any expectation, or if we are familiar with the artist, the performance wildly exceeds our expectations. I still get goose bumps when I think of my first exposure to Michael Hedges (1986) and Tommy Emmanuel (2004). For music’s travelling junkies, discovering new music is half the fun.

At last year’s 2006 Montreal Jazz Festival, the two names that topped the surprise list were the group The Bad Plus and Gabriele Mirabassi. This year, that honour went to alto saxophonist David Binney in a precious concert that took place in the sound-friendly confines of Salle Gesù.

Binney’s notice has been a slowly developing phenomenon, in part because he doesn’t have a label (he’s his own mananger/agent), and it has taken him 20 years of living, listening and playing to carve out a distinct musical identity, one that now puts him on most everybody’s listen list. That Binney depends on word-of-mouth for promotion paves the way for his music to enter the world vaccinated against the vicissitudes and venalities of the market place, whose bottom line, it must be said, has been undermined by the proliferation of file sharing software.

Since Binney is beholding to only his own expectations, one of the first things that strikes the listener about his writing is that it features an unusual measure of set composition that suddenly appears during the improvisational interludes. Binney isn’t intimidated by the high-definition, articulations of melody. When he discovers something that resonates, something that is so right it demands to be preserved, Binney, on the spot, will spontaneously begin to work at it until what is played becomes learned, which provides for its repetition, which is the basis of composition. If it’s one of jazz’s founding (tyrannical) principles that repetition from one night to the next during a solo is a cop-out or an act of sloth, Binney begs to differ, which is why we’re likely to hear the same themes and set variations from one night to the next -- all the way to the studio.

Binney’s set music implicitly challenges the notion that improvised music is superior to composition, that working long and hard to preserve something diminishes it. When improvisation achieves perfection or inevitability, isn’t it natural to want to hear it again, note for note, which is why, on those rare but magical occasions, we’re happy that a particular concert has been taped?

In jazz workshops and academia, not enough attention is being paid to the writing methods of Mozart and Bach, whose compositions, at their outset, were entirely improvised. What distinguished their work from the spirit of jazz was that the composers were able to write down what their minds spontaneously created, at which point it becomes composition. But at its inception, The Marriage of Figaro, for example, like a jazz solo, was entirely improvised. Mozart’s improvisations were so perfect he didn’t have to work on them; Beethoven, on the other hand, was not happy with his first drafts and revised considerably. To this day, Mozart and Bach are without equal as the greatest improvisers and composers who ever lived, a fact that continues to be overlooked by most jazz musicians for whom being able to solo is the highest achievement in music, but whose soloing almost always falls short of the standards required of composition, which is why most of it thankfully disappears into the oblivion category as soon as it’s played.

What is absolutely novel and arresting in the music of David Binney is the unique narrative space he's able to develop, a kind of journey or quest that encourages listeners to get in touch with what is noble and dignified in themselves -- those secret places or selves that get stifled in the real world. Binney designates the improvised sections as the means to get there, where the there, unstable and formless at the outset, must be developed and deepened so it can stand on its own. To be in the presence of that process is a uniquely fulfilling experience, one that attracts us to the man as much as his music. Listeners, for whom Binney is that space’s founding architect, willingly accompany him on these sometimes unnerving voyages of discovery for the promise of being introduced to a music that radiates with life in all its complexity and contradiction. For this singular achievement, Binney’s compositions can be said to satisfy because they are simultaneously complete and open-ended.

By daring to confront human fragility on its own terms, Binney enters into our vocabulary a music that ennobles human vulnerability, resulting in elucidations whose emotive effects we usually associate with the classical genre. For his Montreal concert, there were moments when Binney was able to bring his music to the threshold of the inexpressible, where sound is reduced, in its absolute plenitude, to a tremor or shudder, often ineffably sad, and the listener brought to a state of exultation and humility before the incomparable fact that he exists when it could have been otherwise. There is perhaps no better example of that gut and spirit wrenching attainment than in Bach’s BWV 1016, Sonata for Violin and Piano with Glenn Gould and Jamie Laredo, pt. 3, beginning at the 2 minute 13 second point.

Picking and choosing from his last two CDs, Cities and Desire and Out of Airplanes, Binney found ways to make his alto sax sound round and muscular, and, when the occasion demanded it, slender and delicate. It is to his credit that only in his mid-forties, he has opened up a realm in jazz that draws some of its inspiration from the emotive underpinnings of classical, on top of which his quiet confidence allows him follow his instincts regardless of where they take him, which is why listeners want to travel with him and travel far. And if they are able to do so, it’s in no small part due to the supernatural compliance of Craig Taborn on piano, Scott Colley on bass and, for his Montreal concert, the inimitable Brian Blade on drums.

If all genres of music aspire to significance -- music capable of enduring over time -- Binney is well on his way to making a significant contribution. Given music’s precipitous descent into the maelstrom of mono-tonality during the past 25 years and its deadening effect on the ear, perhaps what is most surprising is that there is an audience for the Binney sound and method, as if his vibe fills a void where other musics, within and without jazz, have fallen short, which is why his production is perhaps the single most interesting event in contemporary jazz.

David Binney 'live' HERE.



John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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