Review of Sunset Park Polyphony by Sergio Piccirilli in El Intruso (dedicated to "the other music"), March 12, 2012, translated from Spanish by Nestor Rodriguez
"Draw your town and you will draw the world."- Leo Tolstoy
The strong path developed by saxophonist and composer David Bindman, while centered in the new current of free improvisation, is marked by multiple artistic elements, which include archaic and cutting edge musical forms, rhythmic cycles and modalities from West Africa, India and other ethnic traditions of complex melodic explorations that are rarely heard; and a search for the integration of musically cohesive planes into an aesthetic ideology able to represent diverse world circles, feelings, history, and cultural heritages based on a mimetic concept of classical aesthetics.
Among the many works, ensembles, and collective projects David Bindman has been involved in, some to mention are: Imaginings album in 1997 with his trio with Kevin Norton, drums, and Joe Fonda, contrabass; his collaboration with saxophonist Fred Ho in the Brooklyn Sax Quartet, shown on the discs The Way of the Saxophone in 2000 (here David Bindman on tenor saxophone, Fred Ho on baritone, Sam Furnace on alto, and Chris Jonas on soprano) and Far Side of Here (in this work Rudresh Mahanthappa and John O'Gallagher instead of Furnace and Jonas respectively); the collaboration with poet and visual artist Tyrone Henderson in Strawman Dance in 1994 ( in which Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Royal Hartigan on drums, and Joe Fonda on contrabass participated); his contribution to the Royal Hartigan Ensemble, joined by Wes Brown on contrabass and Art Hirahara on piano, and marked by the 2008 double album Blood Drum Spirit: Live in China; joined by Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra (Adam Lane, Nate Wooley , Taylor Ho Bynum, Avram Fefer, Matt Bauder, Reut Regev, Tim Vaughn and Igal Foni) with the impressive work Ashcan Rantings in 2010.
Now - channeled through David Bindman Ensemble - we have David Bindman's most ambitious project, the double album Sunset Park Polyphony.
Sunset Park, the place where David Bindman has lived since 2006, is a city neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York marked by its cosmopolitan nature as much as being part of a major historic district in the United States. Sunset Park is a place far from tourism and formed by different communities. There the Hassidic Jews share with the Palestinians as good neighbors and one can find posters in Yiddish and Arabic and eat Kosher and Halal meals. In its main stretch one can find fine Chinese restaurants avoiding the touristic crowds of Chinatown, mixed with Hispanic businesses; in its noisy stretch one can hear people speaking English, Mandarin, or Spanish; and nearby the presence of Italian, Irish, Polish, Norwegian, African American and Finnish communities. In this world-wide landscape of Sunset Park - the place where the well-known author Auster set his novel in 2010 with the same name - one can see factories, shops, industrial complexes and old buildings occupied by squatters, and an abandoned port from which a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline can be seen, as well as fascinating Egyptian mausoleums and gothic tombs from the well-known Greenwood cemetery. Ultimately, if we had to symbolize the atmosphere and temperament of Sunset Park in terms of musical representation, the first word that comes to mind is "polyphony" (a word whose etymological root comes from the Greek polifonica which means "many voices" or "many sounds").
Because of all that, it isn't surprising that a Sunset Park resident - as David Bindman - has named his work Sunset Park Polyphony, but furthermore, in his intent to capture the creative energy of his surroundings, it reminds us of Tolstoy's line that headlines this review; since art is always universal in its singularity as the process of observation and comprehension of that context as the desire to mix, combine and join several sources of inspiration, it's that which permits one to build an integrated and universal cultural identity.
In Sunset Park Polyphony, the academic meaning of the concept of polyphony, whose simultaneous sounds, in contrast to the idea of monophony, applies to the genre in which parts interweave each with its own independent melodic value - is somewhat intertwined with certain literary thought expressed by Milan Kundera when he suggests the close link between music and the structure of a novel upon asserting that "the existence of many situations that are interspersed without any one being dominant, creates a polyphonic feeling."
From the opening of the album with Shape One, the juxtaposition of sounds and voices is translated into a wide spectrum of shades marked by dramatic contrasts. This complex work, dedicated to the memory of recently deceased Tyrone Henderson (well-known poet and activist with whom David Bindman worked on Strawman Dance in 1994), is based on multiple layers of time where the harmony dominates the melodic elements - without the latter being diminished at all - in which they are sliding with commendable precision, the colorful percussion sounds given by Royal Hartigan, drums, the rough determination in counterpoint from David Bindman's tenor sax and Frank London's trumpet and a luminous intervention by Art Hirahara on piano.
A prelude, by Wes Brown's contrabass, produces a melodic, introspective evanescence in Long Line Home. A song that not only recalls David Bindman's childhood life in Englewood (Bergen County, New Jersey), it's based - the same as the first composition - in a 15 pulse cycle, expressed in deliberately slow rhythmic units.
The epicenter of Sunset Park Polyphony, the title track, rests in time intervals corresponding to the Hindu devotional music known according to the classification of Shri Govindacharya as Pantuvarali Raga. From this scaffolding, the work progresses in simultaneous melodic schemes that finally converge into a drum solo, full of shades, by Royal Hartigan. The associated reference to Karnatic music is prolonged and accentuated in the tasks given to the soloists; while David Bindman's tenor sax solo spins around a rhythmic cycle derived from the tirripugar tala, the piano phrases from Art Hirahara are a metric adaptation of the misra capu tala, while the improvisations from Reut Regev's trombone and Frank London's trumpet settle on a raga with a kala, or slow rhythmic pulse.
Robeson House Echoes is a work dedicated to the unforgettable American trumpeter, composer and educator Bill Dixon. The title of the work refers to the Paul Robeson House at Bennington College in Vermont, the place where many musicians congregated - among them David Bindman - in order to take classes and participate in many collaborations under the direction of Dixon. The underlying melodic statement - without metric time - that emerges from the tenor sax develops with the joining of the rest of the instruments until it draws a sonorous plane in which appears outstanding interventions of solos from Frank London, trumpet, and Reut Regev, trombone. At the end, all instruments converge in a spontaneous, synchronized and vaporous collective ending that elliptically invokes the forms, tones, and shades from the original motive.
The eight works included in the second disk form part of the splendid Landings Suite, work that - in addition to his humanist symbolism - runs through diverse musical territories and through different moods, climates, and ethnic influences. In The Transient, the melodic line moves independently in a 31-pulse cycle from which blooms different instrumental combinations; first between Frank London, trumpet and David Bindman, sax, then with the latter and Royal Hartigan, drums, and finally between Reut Regev, trombone and Wes Brown, contrabass. The short canon Icarus Flies Towards the Sun and Returns is followed by the melancholic Singing Bird Melody (theme that tangentially recalls the novel Billy Budd by Herman Melville) and the sonorous explorations in the following Singing Bird Reprise. In Invisible Dance rises the temperament of ethnic music of the Ewe from the Republic of Ghana, while in Recurring Dream reggae and Adzohu (typical dance from the Fon of Togo and Benin, Africa) are merged. By the end, after the nostalgic, exquisite melody from Unspoken, the album finishes with the lively improvisation - based on phrases extracted from the theme of Robeson House Echoes - in RH Reprise.
The creative act, in all its manifestations, is a latent necessity - conscious or unconscious - that waits to be discovered; and this capacity can only be developed upon the artist's curiosity towards the world around him. And David Bindman completes here a successful creative circle born of his curiosity to understand the world.
"There is no need to teach children to be curious, but for the adult one must teach them not to lose the curiosity." (Abraham Marlowe)