David Bindman reviews
Here are excerpts, with links to full reviews. Many thanks to all the writers!

Reviews of Sunset Park Polyphony (excerpts)

'Jazz is at the forefront of the cultural renewal taking place in Brooklyn, and saxophonist David Bindman has been a quiet but leading force in that movement...Bindman and the ensemble imbue the spirit of enjoyment even as they adhere to an implication of social responsibility. They relate stories that are held together by collective musical memories. The ensemble's wide range of cultural appreciation is not a euphemism for world music. This is exceptionally creative jazz, at times played with great subtlety and sometimes with wild abandon.' - KARL ACKERMAN, All About Jazz (full review)

'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... David Bindman completes here a successful creative circle born of his curiosity to understand the world.' - SERGIO PICCIRILLI, El Intruso (full review in Spanish), English translation (full review)

'Don't expect "new-age" noodling from saxophonist/composer Bindman...Intelligent, multi-rhythmic, at turns lyrical or challenging but never dull, this aural experience is worth your attention.' - RICHARD KAMINS, Step Tempest (full review)

'Bindman does a fine job of setting up pieces where two or more lines are happening simultaneously...He assembles different sections of freer exploration yet there is a strong underlying thread that holds it together...[a] splendid sextet.' - BRUCE GALLANTER, Downtown Music Gallery (full review)

'It takes a wealth of ideas and inspiration to fill two CDs and saxophonist David Bindman justifies his large-canvas approach at every step... The orchestration, for three horns, piano, bass and drums, is boundlessly colorful and indeed polyphonic: complex intersecting patterns give Bindman's work a dissonant harmonic outline, but also a melodic allure. Bindman also draws on Indian and African rhythmic traditions to create irregular cycles or "pulse groupings", which he explains in some detail in the liner notes. From these the music takes on a perpetually unresolved quality but also a strong element of groove and swing. It's an adventurous sound, though not wholly 'free' or 'outside'.' - DAVID R. ADLER, New York City Jazz Record (full review)

'Although the album might be considered an entry into the world music category, it's better to call it a new forceful strain of jazz.' - MIKE SHANLEY, Shanley on Music (full review)

'This self-released two-CD sextet album is his masterpiece so far...Bindman's compositions (he wrote all the tracks) are consistently compelling; they're melodic and rhythmic enough to be easily accessible, but complex enough and profound enough to reward deep listening, with piquant harmonies from the horns and moments of refreshing counterpoint. The band's not star-filled by the standards of the average music fan, but NYC jazz aficionados will recognize enough names to realize how good it is...Whether in concert or on record -- ideally, both -- David Bindman is someone whose work you should become familiar with, because music this good needs to be shared.' - STEVE HOLTJE, Culture Catch (full review)

'The David Bindman Ensemble, in their recent 2-CD opus Sunset Park Polyphony (self-released), follows in the footsteps of ensembles dedicated to modern jazz composition and adventurous improvisation. Like the ensembles of Henry Threadgill, Dave Holland, and Tim Byrne, this band's music has structured compositional elements interwoven with contemporary soloing that is not quite free in the sense of Ayler or Ornette, but neither is it tied into bop-lifting, according to the jazz detective I hired to investigate... the ensemble has much going for it...' -- GREGO APPLEGATE EDWARDS, Gapplegate Music Review (full review)

'Many of the arrangements create connective harmonies resulting from the wash of sonic colors that arises from counterpoint among three horns and three rhythm instruments. Concurrently the pieces use absolute textures or the suggestions of Karnatic and African sound-cycles to give added heft to their solos... an earnest CD from a mature artist Sunset Park Polyphony impresses with its professionalism and invention.' -- KEN WAXMAN, Jazzword.com (full review)

'The self-released Sunset Park Polyphony is saxophonist David Bindman's most ambitious recording to date. On this double-CD, he defines himself as a bandleader, composer and improviser more fully than on previous recordings. His compositions blend jazz with musical elements from India and Africa, without sounding a bit like world-music fusion. They're complex, but lyrical and clear, and broadly programmatic...The sextet handles the challenges of compositions such as "Shape One," which contains multiple layers of time, without breaking a sweat. Thus, the music, even at its knottiest, carries a comfortable, lived-in quality. And shifting rhythmic foundations don't trip them up as soloists, either...Bindman's beautifully crafted and executed major statement should be a harbinger of things to come.' -- ED HAZELL, Jazziz Summer 2012 print edition (full review)

'The results, as interpreted by this crack sextet, are never less than absorbing and challenging. As the music twists and turns, everyone gets their turn in the spotlight. The musicians rise to the occasion of Bindman's demanding multi-part compositions with passionate and consistently impressive solo work by all hands. While the entire band is gratifyingly attuned to the intricacies of the music, special mention should be made of the critical role played by the elegantly stylish drumming of the underrated royal hartigan. Ninety minutes is a lot of time to fill, but it's in the nature of Bindman's compositional style to keep you happy with what's happening at the moment while you're wondering where the music is going to head next. With the ensemble keeping the music lively and high-spirited, the time practically flashes by. Well worth hearing, again and again.' -- STUART KREMSKY, IAJRC Journal (the quarterly magazine of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors) Journal Vol. 45. No. 2 - June 2012 (full review)

David's works have also been described as...
'...smart, fun, and multiculturally funky.' - Alexander Varty, Georgia Straight

'Bindman's steamy Climate Conditions (talk about neohot jazz!)... Marvelous is Gadzo music, credited to the Ewe people of Ghana and Bindman. It shines in glorious West-African minimalist rhythms...' - Mark Alburger, 21st Century Music

'Inspired writing fuels the group...David Bindman pens a virtuoso turn on Dizzy Gillespie's 'A Night In Tunisia,' lightning variations on 'Spinning' and reggae asides on 'Jajo.'' - Fred Bouchard, Downbeat

'...a cool, complex and visionary model of artistic endeavor.' - Steven Loewy, All Music Guide

'[Bindman, Fonda and Norton] ...are great at finding a musical moment, attacking it, and pulverizing the traditional grooves into tiny glass shards...' Ted Bonar, Modern Drummer

'Truly a merging of wide sounds...tuneful to the last.' - Andy Bartlett, Cadence

press on the Brooklyn Sax Quartet:

"An experimental ethos dominates ...a powerful and worldly ensemble" - Nate Chinen, The New York Times

"The vibrancy and emotion of the Brooklyn Sax Quartet underscores its social conscience. This inventive group puts together a program that embraces multiculturalism and acknowledges the struggle against injustice without proselytizing". - Terrell Holmes, All About Jazz

"...it's a treat to hear...At some point they break into pairs for contrast, at others allowing a lone voice rise above the group action." - Gary Giddins, Village Voice

"For fans of the saxophone, it just doesn't get any better than a saxophone quartet. And when it comes to that already rare configuration, nobody straddles both the jazz tradition and world music influences as the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet does." - Roger Levesque, The Edmonton Journal

"This is a sax quartet to be reckoned with...   The sum total from this varied set is an undiminishing musicality.   It should be heard by any serious devotee of the saxophone ensemble and advanced improvised music." - Grego Applegate Edwards, Cadence

"In much the way the World Sax Quartet blew the wax out of people's ears, BSQ is picking up where they left off and adding a multi-culti spin to the proceedings.   Wild and wooly without a lot of the excess that turns people off of free/new jazz, these players are concerned about the sound as a whole whether laying out or blasting a joyful noise.   The mainstream of tomorrow is fomenting here."    -Chris Spector, Midwest Record Recap

"You won't even miss the bass and drums as these four horns bob and weave and play with the abandon of children - albeit very smart, well-trained children. Whether they're rendering their own songs or songs by Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Strayhorn, the musicians get deep inside the compositions and blow their way out with melody, harmony, and rhythm". - Keith Goetzman, Utne Reader

"Close your eyes and you will envision the orient, forgetting the fact that it is actually four saxophones from Brooklyn!   This compact, direct and passionate playing portrays a keen cultural affinity to which we all hope to achieve."   - Dennis Hollingsworth, Jazz Improv Magazine

"What I dig the most about this quartet is that they have heart, that breathes life into whatever they do.   Amen." - Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

"This quartet joins the World Saxophone Quartet and the Rova Saxophone Quartet as among the most innovative saxophone groups." - Steven Loewy, All-Music Guide


"Eschewing the global honorific of an obvious influence, The Brooklyn Sax Quartet still manifests a sound of worldly proportions. Individual pieces prove just as creatively potent as the four players negotiating them and incorporate everything from Ghanaian talking drum rhythms to R&B, Funk, Brazilian and Free Jazz elements (all deftly channeled through saxophones). The wealth of improvisatory ideas that are continuously plugged into the shifting ensemble relationships make for some gratifying listening and the differing sonorities of the saxes are exploited to galvanizing effect." - Derek Taylor, Cadence

"The Brooklyn Sax Quartet's compositions and arrangements fully feature the instruments' rich timbres...the aggregation is also gifted at weaving rich rhythmic and melodic passages throughout. It's difficult not to think of Weather Report's maxim -- "We always solo and we never solo" -- when listening to The Way of the Saxophone's six tracks, for like the stitch work of a master tailor, the lines of improv and composition are wonderfully blurred". -   Reuben Jackson, Jazz Times

"On both the originals and radically reworked standards, the saxophonists effectively integrate melodic, swing-based playing with dissonant, free jazz blowing...Ultimately, the Brooklyn Sax Quartet succeeds in pulling together disparate elements -- harmonious tones with atonality and through-composed form with unfettered improvising -- because of the strong rapport between the players." - Chris Wong, Vancouver Courier

"...inventive and joyful, exploratory yet effortless." - Francois Couture, All Music Guide

"Here's the debut disc [The Way of the Saxophone] of four guys doing what they like to do best...This quartet is ages away from others who specialize in that odd genre of museum-lobby quality, thin-lipped and somewhat repressed 20th century French saxophone quartets." - Grant Chu Covell, La Folie Music Review Magazine

"Driven by the pens of Fred Ho and David Bindman, these guys blend the legacies of the WSQ and Rova. They're precise, energetic, fanciful and down with entertainment enough to put a prog spin on "Jitterbug Waltz" - Jim Macnie, Village Voice

"Comparisons will be made to the World Saxophone Quartet - but these will fall short, as comparisons often do. This group is more muscular, less mannered and, if possible, more eclectic...Bindman slowly drifts into "Jitterbug Waltz". Fred sets the pace, the high horns lay the chords, and Jonas goes skating. We didn't expect such delicacy, but then again we didn't expect any of this. This group is strong, and they will be listened to. " - John Barrett, JazzUSA.com

"...the Quartet offers butter-rich tones and a penchant for polyrhythms that suggest a compositional ethic stewed over years of practice, steeped in the sounds of the Brooklyn streets...The Brooklyn Sax Quartet creates music you don't need to understand to sit and sway in its rapturous hold." - Aaron Shuman SF Weekly

"It's nice to know the sweet beast we call music is in such good hands, as sweet and beastly as ever." - Nathaniel Mackey
BSQ reviews-full text:

Brooklyn Sax Quartet Explores the Nebulous Genre of Jazz
By Jon Blitzer, Columbia Daily Spectator January 27, 2006

For a tradition with more than its fair share of inventions and reinventions, it seems that the creativity of jazz musicians is inexhaustible—even these days, when critics and club-goers often worry that the past is all “the music” has left. Maybe this is because the word “jazz” itself is becoming less and less genre-bound as the music continues to encompass more and more. Which brings us to the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet and the mantra you’ll likely hear from the group’s co-founder and co-leader Fred Ho propound on Saturday from the bandstand: “The world is in Brooklyn, and the world’s music drives the BSQ.” What makes the BSQ so commanding is precisely that so much goes on in its music. The group draws from a range of musical and cultural traditions, playing West African and Afro-Caribbean compositions, a whole host of traditional and popular songs from Japan, Korea, and China, and straight-ahead jazz from the songbooks of Monk, Gillespie, and Ellington. The ensemble is, above all, freshly original, and even when we hear them take on standards (“Ask Me Now” and “A Night in Tunisia” come to mind), they have managed to make these otherwise familiar tunes entirely their own, manipulating harmony and meter. There have been countless ensembles with multiple horns on the front-line, but remarkably few that consist entirely of the same instrument, let alone exclusively horns. And among this already slim list, the BSQ is the real thing, with Sam Newsome on soprano sax, Ned Rothenberg on alto, and co-leaders David Bindman and Ho on tenor and baritone respectively. The energy and power of the ensemble’s sound has a great deal to do with Bindman and Ho, who share writing responsibilities for the group. Bindman is interested in what he calls “harmonic movement, the chance to work harmonically with four voices,” and he attributes the ensemble’s unique sound to the richness of these voices. Ho helps amplify the depth and clarity of these harmonies in both his playing and writing. Ho is steeped in the big band tradition.


“I attended the ‘University of Big Bands,’” he says with a smile, drawing his musical inspiration from the likes of Duke Ellington and Cal Massey. Perhaps most impressive about the BSQ’s playing are the nuances that the group manages amid the sheer kinetics and energy of its sound. Bindman, Ho, Newsome, and Rothenberg are virtuosos; the facility each musician has on his instrument brings added complexity to Bindman's and Ho’s writing. The BSQ is, without question, an innovative bunch. But unlike so many other groups that experiment with instrumentation and develop unconventional repertoires, the BSQ succeeds in maintaining a coherent, directed program. Even as critics and fans sometimes find it so hard to agree on exactly what “jazz” music includes, there can at least be consensus on the BSQ, which is well aware of the tradition in which it operates.“If you water down jazz music and make it a finished product that has no risk and no statement, then the music has no connection to where it began,” said Bindman.
JAZZ IMPROV MAGAZINE, Vol. 5, Number 4, Summer 2005

A painted face that could easily be seen as African, Asian or Middle Eastern adorns the front cover of The Far Side of Here, amply setting the tone for what lies ahead on this disc. A plethora of world influences and inspirations are evident throughout the performance. In addition, the disc is dedicated to the memory of Sam Furnace, the long time member who succumbed to a battle with cancer in January 2004. It serves as a fitting tribute to his musical and personal contributions, and we are fortunate that his playing is documented on half of the set. All of the tunes are presented in singular format, combining structured and free-form sections into whole songs. It often appears that tunes are more outlines than formal diagrams, allowing significant space for improvisation. Composed sections move seamlessly into areas of controlled freedom and vice versa. As could be imagined with four reed instruments, all combinations of voices are employed. Solos, duets, trios and quartets flow from one to the next in organic fashion. Syncopation is frequently used, as are tandem runs and repetitive clusters, often serving as bass lines or foundations to build upon. Bindman's "Tie Me Sufre" opens the recording with rather complex melodic interplay, all four players seemingly chasing each other about before things settle into a blues inspired tune. Ho serves as the bottom until given an opportunity to solo, when Bindman takes over the foundation. Mahanthappa also solos against alternating support from Bindman and O'Gallagher. All four bounce to and fro before the tune repeats the melodic line and ends in unison."Fishing Song of the East China Sea" is a rather simple melody given great character and depth through judicious use of vibrato and pitch-bending inflection. Close your eyes and you will envision the orient, forgetting the fact that it is actually four saxophones from Brooklyn! This compact, direct and passionate playing portrays a keen cultural affinity to which we all hope to achieve."I Understand Now," a slow tempo ballad presents all voices weaving amongst one another, challenging the listener to search for an illusive anchor not easily found. Contemporary intervals and harmonies, certainly 21st century in nature, show a distinct jazz quality. Repeated listening does not diminish the inherent intrigue."A Night in Tunisia" gives the listener an opportunity to focus on a great standard whille following the Bindman/Hartigan arrangement. Taken in 7/4, Bindman and Mahanthappa provide a nice comping sequence as Ho explores. Next, a traditional bass line from Ho helps O'Gallagher introduce the melody. Highlights include several intense and bouncing patterns played in unison. Despite tempo changes and multiple layers of sound, we never forget what tune we are listening to. Ho compiled "The Black Nation Suite" as a tribute to the struggles of Black liberation. Spirituals from a variety of sources form the design the most recognizable being Seeger's "We Shall Overcome." Introduced with the soprano stretching harmonic boundaries, the four horns play the melody in concert while creating highly modal chord changes. Pay close attention to the middle section in "Free New Afrika! Boogaloo." After Ho demonstrates his wonderful range on the baritone, alto and soprano together lay down quick bursts that sound eerily like odd stringed inventions. "Song for a United Socialist Pan Africa" is a sinuous panorama with solos from each player, underscored by Furnace's bluesy and powerful alto. Another well worn standard, "Lush Life," opens with Ho playing the melody while the trio does a beautiful job sounding like a horn section from the 50's. Unvarnished on the surface, this one gets its interest from subtle inflections and Ho's power."Spinning" is a highlight reel for all, particularly O'Gallagher's soprano and Mahanthappa's alto. Each player stretches his solo to the fringes of harmony. Further, echoes of the The Art Ensemble of Chicago can be heard as this tune unfolds. The song is an excellent example of integrating written dialogue with potent solo invention."Jajo" concludes the date with more interesting time modulations and brilliant solos. Unison patterns frame the melody, delineated by O'Gallagher in fine form. All give their individual thoughts in between the happily upbeat melodic passages. This one is sure to put a smile on any open-minded listener's face. Recording quality is consistent with many of the OmniTone releases. Engineers Jon Rosenberg and Rich Lamb produced a disc of admirable sonority, the richness of each saxophone distinct in the mix, perfectly mixed and blended to perfection. If you are an adventurous soul who does not require drums and bass with your jazz, give this disc a spin. It swings, it is intense, it is refreshing, and it takes you everywhere else you need to go for just an hour's investment.By Dennis Hollingsworth

DOWNBEAT, August, 2005Saxophone ensembles are needed because they lift us with pure melody and thumping rhythm unshackled by busy piano and drums. The joys are rekindled by the Brooklyn Sax Quartet's "The Black Nation Suite," wrapping gospel hymn and protest chant around a humping boogaloo...

Rambunctious honking and rasping raised-fist chorales trump the sumptuous in the Brooklyn Sax Quartet. They're blue-collar Brooklynites and their "Lush Life" conjures Flatbush, not Fifth Avenue. Inspired writing fuels the group: as well as Fred Ho's stutterstep salvos and broad palette, co-founder David Bindman pens a virtuoso turn on Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia," lightning variations on "Spinning" and reggae asides on "Jajo."...
–Fred Bouchard

ALL ABOUT JAZZ, April 2005
Far Side of Here
Brooklyn Sax Quartet (OmniTone)
By Terrell Holmes
The vibrancy and emotion of the Brooklyn Sax Quartet underscores its social conscience. This inventive group puts together a program that embraces multiculturalism and acknowledges the struggle against injustice without proselytizing. At their recent March show at St. John's Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, they performed several numbers from their new release, Far Side of Here, whose splendid solo/group interplay recalls the dynamics of a Greek chorus. On the opener, "Tie Me Sufre" (TEEay may SOOfray), altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa blows a blistering solo over Fred Ho's patiently pumping baritone. Ho then takes center stage on "Fishing Song of the East China", a song he wrote based on a Chinese folk song. The disc's centerpiece is "The Black Nation Suite", conceived by Ho and comprised of four tunes about the black struggle for freedom in Africa and America. Each horn voices an element of the struggle: the late, great Sam Furnace's passionate alto on "0, Freedom"; John O'Gallagher's dolorous but unbowed soprano on "We Shall Overcome"; Ho's querulous baritone leading his fellow sax men through a dance of defiance on "Free New Afirka! Boogaloo"; and the shrieking protestations of tenor man David Bindman on "Song for a United Socialist Pan Africa". The group also includes a couple of standards in the lineup. Bindman's witty arrangement of "Night in Tunisia", includes mischievous false endings and deft tempo shifts; and "Lush Life" features a lyrical intro by Ho and big band styling that would make both Trane and Duke proud. The last song "Jajo" (YAH-yo) means "egg" in Polish and includes a sly reference to Bob Marley. A tune with a Polish title and reggae highlights. If that doesn't speak volumes for the Brooklyn Sax Quartet, nothing will.

Weekly Alibi (Albuquerque), April 7 - 13, 2005
Blue Note
Sax-o-Four
The Brooklyn Sax Quartet
By Michael Henningsen
Adventures in improvisation often border on the unlistenable. And for a select group of listeners who enjoy nothing more than shedding blood, sweat and tears over difficult music, that's just fine. But most folks, myself included, prefer to enjoy music without having to work our ears to their cochleae, while still being able to appreciate subgenres that are, well, a little left of the mainstream. For that lot in particular, meet the Brooklyn Sax Quartet: an adventure in listenable jazz improvisation. Born 10 years ago to cofounders David Bindman (tenor) and Fred Ho (baritone), the BSQ has weathered more than its fair share of personnel changes, at one time counting New Mexico saxophonist Chris Jonas among its ranks, but its mission has always remained on track: to boldly go where few saxophonists have gone before without completely alienating casual listeners and avant garde newbies. Bindman and Ho contribute virtually all of the quartet's original compositions, which, on the group's latest recording, Far Side of Here (OmniTone), nestle neatly amid traditional tunes and works by Dizzy Gillespie ("A Night in Tunisia"), Billy Strayhorn ("Lush Life") and even Pete Seeger ("We Shall Overcome"). As odd as the array sounds, the album's 11 tracks stack up quite nicely, sharing a surprising number of musical threads. The BSQ, which also includes soprano saxophonist John O'Gallagher and, as of this writing, altoist Sam Newsome, constructs rich harmony and complex interplay while maintaining finger-snapping rhythmic pulse and a deliciously evolved sense of melody. Energized by both the freshness that comes from pure ensemble improvisation and the timeless quality born of respectful recasting of classic pieces of music, the BSQ succeeds in its quest to attach new, beautifully colored elements to the jazz collage in an effort to attract new ears while satisfying the older ones. That's one hell of a feat considering that serious jazz listeners are a discerning bunch. But this particular fearless foursome will surprise even the staunchest skeptic.

ALL MUSIC GUIDE, FEBRUARY, 2001The stamp of David Bindman is everywhere on this recording, which features a fine studio performance from a group of talented saxophonists associated with the more adventurous wing of modern jazz. Most of the pieces were written or arranged by Bindman, and reflect a cool, complex, and visionary model of artistic endeavor. His transformations of Duke Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood and Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz are clever and original in the way in which melody is subordinated completely to rhythm and esoteric notions of harmony. Bindman's Pier Sketch stands out, in particular, for its effective use of the blues combined with abstractions not usually associated with this genre. Risks abound and some of the difficult written patterns are played perfectly, clearly a result of significant preparation. Although limited somewhat by the timbre of a single set of instruments, this quartet joins the World Saxophone Quartet and the Rova Saxophone Quartet as among the most innovative saxophone groups. -- Steven Loewy
DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY Featuring David Bindman on tenor sax, Fred Ho on bari sax, John O'Gallagher on soprano sax and the late Sam Furnace or Rudresh Mahathappa on alto sax. This is the second superb disc from the great Brooklyn Sax Quartet (BSQ), with four tunes written by Bindman, three by Ho plus unlikely covers of Dizzy's "A Night in Tunisia", Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" and traditional gospel pieces. "Tie Me Sufre" means "listen to my cry" in the Twi language of the Akan people of Ghana and is some funky funeral music which has been altered and has some rather robust bari sax playing from Fred Ho, as well as a spirited tenor or alto solo, hard to tell. Fred's "Fishing Song of the East China Sea" was inspired by a Chinese folk song and has some great far eastern harmonies at the center. David's "I Understand Now" features some fine serpent-like soprano sax from Mr. O'Gallagher, The classic bop gem, "A Night in Tunisia" is great choice and orchestrated nicely, slightly twisted and turned inside out a bit, with the soprano up front. Fred Ho's ambitious "The Black Nation Suite" is draws from traditional gospel, as well as some African sources. Very nice to hear their heartfelt version of "We Shall Overcome", which precedes a funky bari sax raver called "Free New Afrika! Boogaloo", an aptly titled foot-stompin' groove tune. "Song for a United Socialist Pan Africa" brings the suite to a fine close with some swell, enchanting harmonies for the four saxes. Billy Strayhorn's delectable "Lush Life" was arranged by and features the sublime baritone sax of Fred Ho with some elegant backing by the other three saxists. Ever so beautiful. David's "Spinning" features a bari and tenor dialogue that has the other saxists come in together to play the intricate charted sections. The finale is David's "Jajo", a reggae inspired tune that is earthy in part, but features a few spirit duo sections. What I dig the most about this quartet is that they have heart, that breathes life into whatever they do. Amen. - Bruce Gallanter
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2004
Saxophone quartet stakes out eclectic territory
ROGER LEVESQUE
Special to The Edmonton Journal

For fans of the saxophone, it just doesn't get any better than a saxophone quartet. And when it comes to that already rare configuration, nobody straddles both the jazz tradition and world music influences as the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet does.In the century or so since jazz began, sax quartets rank as a fairly recent development despite an antecedent in the wind sections of the great big bands. The World Sax Quartet (founded in 1977) was a key pioneer in this sub-genre but the BSQ stakes out a special eclectic territory of its own.David Bindman (tenor sax) and Fred Ho (baritone) founded the group in 1995, spurred on by Ho’s writing for the Rova Saxophone Quartet. After a few personnel changes (and the recent death of original member Sam Furnace), Ho and Bindman remain the principal composer-arranger-leaders the band. Now John O'Gallagher's soprano and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s alto fill out the BSQ's rich sound.Ironically, none of them are Brooklyn-born, but the multicultural character of the New York borough makes it an appropriate home base. Collectively, the BSQ reflects dozens of musical influences, but composing and arranging for the band has been an experience in self-discovery beyond the convention of working with piano, bass or drums, offering unique creative challenges and thrills.The lush harmonic possibilities of four winds were an initial attraction.“That’s why I first fell in love with writing for the group,” explains Bindman. “But it’s been a process of learning as you go. I’ve heard other sax quartets, but I’m trying to find what moves me, and how we evoke that is up to us. You can have the baritone play the bass line or pass the rhythmic concept from one instrument to the next. With the structure of any piece you have to work the shape, the story line and the propulsion, to say it all with four saxophones, so there's never a point when anybody is just coasting.”The BSQ’s debut recording The Way the Saxophone (Innova, 2001) offers a marvelous range of original pieces along with more conventional arrangements of two classics, Jitterbug Waltz and In A Sentimental Mood. Given their gifts for intuitive interaction, it's also sometimes hard to pinpoint where the arrangement stops and the improvising takes over.Bindman says that balance between structure and improvisation really changes from one tune to another. They also have their own set of cues to signal each other when it’s time to come back together out of improvised passages. As for ethnic influences, Bindman’s past studies at Wesleyan University touched on West African drumming and South Indian music, and his new arrangement of A Night In Tunisia has an enhanced North African feel.Ho's roots as an Asian-American and his role as an activist have lent a political element to his Composing, including a recent suite Yellow Power Yellow Soul. His Black Nations Suite draws on African-American spirituals and civil rights anthems, among other elements.“The mainstream media always tends to divide up oppressed peoples”, notes Ho,"but I’ve always looked to the parallels between Asian-Americans and African-Americans."Whatever the inspiration, the BSQ manages to cook up a full-flavoured sonic stew.

April 22, 2004
The Georgia Straight – Vancouver’s News and Entertainment Weekly, April 15-22,2004
BSQ Burning Bright Despite loss of Furnace

Just a year ago, following a tour of Japan, the Brooklyn Sax Quartet's Sam Furnace was not feeling very well. His stomach was bothering him, he told his bandmates; perhaps he'd picked up a parasite on his travels, or was suffering the lingering effects of food poisoning. Alas, it was not that simple. After checking himself into hospital, Furnace learned he had cancer, and despite trying everything from chemotherapy to herbal tonics, he died this January."It was devastating for us," says the BSQ’s David Bindman, on the line from his New York City home. "Within about three or four weeks he'd lost about 30 pounds, and he went downhill really fast. But we tried to keep him playing as much as possible", because when he would come out and play he was really happy. It was like the illness would disappear for a couple of hours. So we kept him active with us, even though it was hard to rehearse, and he played great."In an earlier interview with the Georgia Straight, Bindman had described the aptly named Furnace as the burning heart of the band, a stylist who could jump from swinging bebop to complex abstraction with ease. It's clear he deeply misses his alto-playing compadre, and he confesses that for a while he wasn't sure that the BSQ would continue without Furnace. But continue it did, and the group brings its new lineup to the Western Front on Saturday (April 17). Joining Bindman and baritone player Fred Ho will be newcomers Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto and John O'Gallagher on soprano. Both, says the tenor-sax specialist, are superb musicians-and they'd have to be to play the challenging scores.As always, the BSQ will pay homage to its jazz roots, this time with inventive arrangements of Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" and Duke Ellington's "Lush Life". Even more demanding, however, are the original compositions Bindman and Ho have worked up. The former describes his own "Tie Me Sufre", an Ashanti phrase that means "listen to my cry", as a piece that places a catchy melody over tricky, syncopated beats. It's rooted in the adowa rhythms Bindman learned while working with Ghanaian percussionist Abraham Adzenyah, but since the BSQ is a drummerless ensemble, those complex, shifting metres have been divided between the four saxophones.Ho also takes the multicultural road in his two long pieces, "The Black Nation Suite" and "Yellow Power, Yellow Soul". Inspired by '60s martyr Dr. Martin Luther King, the former moves from a sorrowful mood to an exultant boogaloo over the course of its four-part homage to the civil-rights movement In the United States, while the latter deploys elements of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Hawaiian music to illustrate the role that people from Pacific Rim cultures have played in the making of America."Chinese and other Asian-Pacific Americans have not been marginal to American history: we have been marginalized by American history," says Bindman, reading from Ho's program notes. But this group doesn't just give lip service to the notion of a vibrant, multicultural America: the Jewish, Chinese, Irish, and South Asian genes of its members are the melting pot in action, in the best possible way.
- Alexander Varty

THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE JANUARY 24 2002
Sax quartet breaks all of the old rules By Andrew GilbertDuring the swing era, saxophone sections were one of jazz’s basic units, almost as important as rhythm sections in defining the sound of the singular orchestras led by Duke Ellington, Count Basic and Woody Herman. A funny thing happened in the late'70s and'80s, though, as sax players liberated the section from jazz big bands and turned saxophone quartets into thriving sonic laboratories. In the hands of the such bands as the World Saxophone Quartet, ROVA and the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, sax ensembles became cuttinge edge vehicles for visionary composers interested in extending the horn's possibilities. One of the most exciting additions to this budding tradition is the Brooklyn Saxophone Quarter, a stellar group featuring Fred Ho on baritone, David Bindman on tenor, Sam Furnace on alto and Chris Jonas on soprano. Founded six years ago in the borough that lent the group its time, BSQ gained national attention last year with the release of its debut album, "The Way of the Saxophone" on Innova Recordings. The quartet makes its West Coast debut Saturday night at Spruce Street Forum.
"I don't think of the saxophone section sound as a starting point," said Bindman, 38, who along with Ho composes most of the group's material. "I think of how we can express through the four horns the movement of the piece, whether through rhythmic complexity or a more linear kind of narrative. I feel like it's a chance to write harmonies and interlocking melodies and all this stuff that bounces off each other." With an extensive background in West African and Indian music, Bindman brings these influences to bear on such pieces as "Gadzo," a highly syncopated piece inspired by a warrior dance from Ghana. Ho is also drawn to hybrid forms. Steeped in the orchestral language of Ellington and Charles Mingus, he has developed an expansive compositional style that draws from various Asian folk and classical traditions, as well as R&B, jazz and gospel. Best known for his politically charged recordings, such as his acclaimed 1994 Soul Note release "Underground Railroad to My Heart," and Large multimedia productions, like his Chinese opera "A Chinaman's Chance," Ho sees his music and activism as inseparably linked, a stance suggested by his piece "Beyond Columbus and Capitalism," one of the quartet's signature works. "I've been playing sax as long as I've been in the struggle, and I've been in the movement as long as I've been making music," Ho said, referring to his involvement in various progressive causes. "They're integral and inseparable parts of my identity." Within the context of the quartet, what's fascinating about Ho's work is the way that it constantly makes his bandmates take on different roles. Without a rhythm instrument, the horns must generate their own momentum, and each musician sometimes finds himself laying down a propulsive riff The result is a wide-open approach that's as protean, panethnic and polyglot as Brooklyn itself. "Fred writes these very funky grooves and his work draws a lot on Chinese and Pacific-Asian music," Bindman said. "He goes for these insane, interwoven rhythms that keep cycling against each other. But there are no defined roles, On 'Jitterbug Waltz, 'Fred's the bass player at the beginning under the soprano solo, and then we switch roles under the alto solo. The piece I'm writing now, I'm specifically not writing a vamp for the baritone, because we don't want to overdo that. The only formula is that there's no formula."
Andrew Gilbert is a Bay Area writer.

THE VANCOUVER COURIER FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1. 2002
Sax quartet blends creative styles
By Chris Wong

THE ALL MUSIC GUIDE web site has a positive review of the Brooklyn Sax Quartet's debut album that came out last year, The Way of the Saxophone. But near the end of that review the writer slightly qualified his praise by saying that although the group of four saxophonists is "limited somewhat" by having the timbre of one set of instruments, the quartet is at the level of the "most innovative" saxophone groups such as The World Saxophone Quartet and Rova.Actually, the all-sax sound doesn't restrict the Brooklyn Sax Quartet at all. That's because each player exudes engaging creative energy. The band also varies its approach to shaping material. While their songs have clearly composed structures, and all of them provide ample room for vigorous improvisation, at certain points the musicians spontaneously blur the lines between composition and improvisation. "For me, that's the joy of playing when that happens," says the quartet's David Bindman, on the phone from his home in Brooklyn. "The trick is to make that happen every time. But you don't do that consciously. That's part of being a musician, part of playing this music, part of loving the music." The Brooklyn Sax Quartet's members – Bindman on tenor saxophone, Fred Ho on baritone sax, altoist Sam Furnace and soprano player Chris Jonas – are accomplished instrumentalists who play with a lot of passion for adventurous jazz on The Way of The Saxophone. No doubt the quartet will project that fervor when the group performs its first-ever Vancouver concert Feb. 2 at the Western Front. Bindman and Ho started the group in 1995 after playing a lengthy piece by Ho called "Beyond Columbus and Capitalism" in some benefits for Brooklyn's Park Slope Food Co-op. Bindman and Furnace had already played in some of Ho’s visionary cross-cultural groups, including the Afro Asian Music Ensemble and Monkey Orchestra. Groups like the World Saxophone Quartet, which gave prominence to the saxophone quartet format in jazz, didn't influence the Brooklynites to form a four-sax band. "It wasn't because I admired other sax quartets particularly," says Bindman. "It was a combination of really loving to play with the other players and realizing that it was a great opportunity to write interesting, interacting harmonies." A web search turns up the Saxophone Quartets Links page, which lists a large number of groups, including the Brooklyn Sax Quarter. Birdman was surprised to see the abundance of sax quartets when he surfed to the page. "I thought, 'Oh no, there are a zillion sax quartets. We'll just be one of a zillion.' But that hasn't really stopped us." True enough. The group creates a distinctive sound throughout The Way of the Saxophone, on both original tunes by Bindman and Ho along with interpretations of standards by Duke Ellington ("In A Sentimental Mood") and Fats Waller ("Jitterbug Waltz"). On both the originals and radically reworked standards, the saxophonists effectively integrate melodic, swing-based playing with dissonant, free jazz blowing. "The tension between the different styles is I think what gives the unique sort of signature to the group," says Bindman, whose experience ranges from recording with avant-garde icons Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith to performing with Ghanian master percussionists Talking Drums.Bindman based one especially rhythmic tune, "Gadzo," on warrior music from Ghana's Eve people. In a way, the song connects to the quartet's Brooklyn roots. "Aside from the members being from different cultural backgrounds, in the music itself we're pulling in lots of African and Chinese and Indian elements," says Bindman. "We’re not doing it consciously to be different. It's music that we've all had different experiences with, and that in a sense reflects Brooklyn, which is such a vibrant meeting place of different immigrants."Ultimately, the Brooklyn Sax Quartet succeeds in pulling together disparate elements – harmonious tones with atonality and through-composed form with unfettered improvising – because of the strong rapport between the players. "My own personal feeling when I play music is that it becomes like a family," says Bindman. "I mean as cliched as that sounds, that's part of the joy of doing it. And in fact when we work with subs, I'm not always looking for the best player. I'm looking for someone who's going to fit in where the vibe is good. Then the resulting group sound becomes slanted differently based on whoever's playing. But the vibe is always going to be enthusiastic and fun because people get along and like each other and feel like we're doing it for the same reasons." Bindman sums up those reasons this way: "There's a lot that you can do rhythmically, there's a lot of exploration that you can do in terms of sound qualities of the saxophonist, and there's the joy of playing together, combining the composed elements with improvisation, with people that I feel are really exciting to play with."

The Georgia Straight – Vancouver’s News and Entertainment Weekly, Jan. 31 – Feb. 7, 2002
Brooklyn Sax Quartet’s music reflects it’s borough of origin


Brooklyn, New York, may be the world's most culturally diverse neighbourhood. Even more than nearby Manhattan, it is a polyglot hub of humanity, and it has been for more than a century. Ethnic bookstores and record shops line its thoroughfares; a recent Saveur magazine story suggested that one can sample at least 100 different cuisines in its many restaurants. And so it's appropriate that the Brooklyn Sax Quartet is a pleasingly diverse group of players: not only does it include Asian-, African-, and Jewish-American musicians, its repertoire touches on traditional African drum rhythms, '30s swing tunes, avant-garde jazz, urban funk, and kung fu-movie soundtracks.The diversity is deliberate, and reflects the eclectic tastes of the BSQ's four members. But The group-which plays the Western Front on Saturday (February 2)-is the result of a happy accident, based on baritone specialist Fred Ho's desire to play a score commissioned by Berkeley, California's Rova Saxophone Quartet.

"The group wasn't consciously formed," explains tenor saxophonist David Bindman, on the line from his Brooklyn home. "Instead it came together around this piece that Fred wrote called 'Beyond Columbus and Capitalism'. He wanted to perform that piece at some benefits here in New York, so he drew upon those of us who have played his music, and out of that the quartet kind of developed. And when we played together, the dynamic just felt great." Seven years after the BSQ's inception, Bindman still has nothing but warm thoughts for his fellow players. "People sometimes ask me who I listen to, who I like," he comments. "And of course I grew up listening to John Coltrane and Sam Rivers and Johnny Griffin and all the horn players that you have to listen to because they're fantastic. But now, the people I listen to are the people I work with; they're the ones that really make me excited about music.He praises alto player Sam Furnace for the way he can spring out of his bebop roots into soaring melodic flight; Chris Jonas, who holds down the soprano chair, is honoured for his thoughtful approach and big sound. And it's Ho's sense of humour that Bindman particularly treasures. "Fred likes to write some funny stuff,' Bindman explains. "In 'Hipster Harvey’, from our debut, The Way of the Saxophone, he starts with this absolutely insanely high introduction. Then somewhere in the middle he comes out of this beautiful ballad section and all of a sudden you're into a bossa nova. That's sort of a typical instance of him playing around. And in 'Beyond Columbus', which will be on our next record, one of the passages is called 'The Huge Farts of the Red Meat-Eating Imperialists Inhabit the Earth'. You can just imagine how that starts out. So Fred doesn't shy away from taking on the hard issue&-or the ridiculous ones." The tenor player's own contributions to the BSQ include a number of pieces for the group that are based around traditional West African percussion styles, inspired in part by the time he spent as a member of Ghanaian musician Abraham Adzenyah's Talking Drums ensemble. They're smart, fun, and multiculturally funky-not unlike the Brooklyn Sax Quartet itself.
- Alexander Varty

JAZZ TIMES - JUNE 2001The Borough of Brooklyn may have lost (and may still be lamenting) its beloved Dodgers, but its residents could do worse than seeking this fo'tet -- David Bindman, Sam Furnace, Fred Ho and Chris Jonas -- to rally behind. Like many other sax-minus-rhythm-section ensembles, The Brooklyn Sax Quartet's compositions and arrangements fully feature the instruments' rich timbres, but as titles such as the opening "Climate Conditions" (written by Bindman) and baritone man Fred Ho's "Hipster Harvey" delightfully prove, the aggregation is also gifted at weaving rich rhythmic and melodic passages throughout.It's difficult not to think of Weather Report's maxim -- "We always solo and we never solo" -- when listening to The Way of the Saxophone's six tracks, for like the stitch work of a master tailor, the lines of improv and composition are wonderfully blurred. In addition to the titles by Bindman and Ho, the CD also features fresh interpretations of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz." The former contains and reveals emotional depths and harmonic subtleties not always present in modern readings of the classic, while the Waller tune cascades humorously along, buttressed by Ho's rumbling baritone and Chris Jonas' tart soprano.-- Reuben Jackson
CADENCE, THE REVIEW OF JAZZ & BLUES: CREATIVE IMPROVISED MUSIC/MAY, 2001
Holding true to the tradition of eclecticism inherent to this column these dozen releases dot the map of creative music with widely spaced pushpins. From dynamically devised group saxophone creations by a foursome of reed titans to an aging R&B saxophonist revisiting past glories, these discs run a wide gamut in terms of musical intention and execution. Eschewing the global honorific of an obvious influence, THE BROOKLYN SAX QUARTET still manifests a sound of worldly proportions. Throughout THE WAY OF THE SAXOPHONE (Innova 549) David Bindman(ts), Sam Furnace (as), Fred Ho (bs) and Chris Jonas (ss) wield their reeds like the four points of the compass creating a dense, but pan-directional sound. The program (Climate Conditions/Hipster Harvey/ In a Sentimental Mood/ Gadzo/ Pier Sketch/ Jitterbug Waltz. 58:01. Recorded: 7/29/00, NYC) is custom-crafted for hard and vociferous blowing. Individual pieces prove just as creatively potent as the four players negotiating them and incorporate everything from Ghanaian talking drum rhythms to R&B, Funk, Brazilian and Free Jazz elements (all deftly channeled through saxophones). The wealth of improvisatory ideas that are continuously plugged into the shifting ensemble relationships make for some gratifying listening and the differing sonorities of the saxes are exploited to galvanizing effect. Ho's meaty baritone, which recalls Bluiett but is more routinely rounded in tone, resides over the bottom end and Jonas' bright soprano sails over the loftier registers while Furnace and Bindman braid lines in between, but as the four prove on the rhythmically charged "Hipster Harvey" these assigned roles can just as easily be upended. Ensemble saxophone music can be a dicey endeavor, but under the aegis of players such as these it's a safe bet that expectations will be met and even exceeded.-- Derek Taylor
ALL MUSIC GUIDE, JANUARY, 2001
Led by tenor David Bindman, the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet's approach is more bop-oriented than more avant-gardist groups like Rova or the World Saxophone Quartet. That is not to say these fine musicians cannot take a left turn once in a while and they actually do often stray off the frequented path, but they somehow manage to keep things into focus and apparently simple. There is some serious writing in Climate Conditions, maybe the most complex piece of the set, organized in suite form with a bit of chaos and moments of clarity. Gadzo is the other highlight. Based on music from Ghana, the Bindman piece origially included traditional drums. This percussion-less version still feels very rhythmical and is full of hidden gems (like a 30 second snippet where baritone Fred Ho's ooh-wah mouthing gives the piece an anachronical 50s charm). Pier Sketch could summarize the whole album: inventive and joyful, exploratory yet effortless. Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz and Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood get rewarding arrangements. Saxophone aficionados should have no doubt about the interest of The Way of the Saxophone (even though the CD's title is less than engaging).-- Francois Couture

A FOLIE MUSIC REVIEW MAZAZINE, VOLUME 3 NUMBER 3
A Wake for Montaigne?Scrooge, Saxes and Sonic Circuits: Four from Innova

 
New music refuses to go away. Organizations like the American Composers Forum (ACF) (http://www.composersforum.org/) and the American Music Center (AMC) (http://www.amc.net/) are nurturing a thriving environment of composers, performers and educators, all of whom are dedicated to the creation, promulgation and performing of new music. The AMC does many cool things including running the wonderful webzine NewMusicBox (http://www.newmusicbox.com/), and among the many cool things the
ACF does is run a CD label called Innova (http://www.innovarecordings.com/). A fresh handful of new Innova releases demonstrates the American Composers Forum's diversity and commitment in attending to new American music and performers...Here's the debut disc of four guys doing what they like to do best. The Brooklyn Sax Quartet is a secure and balanced group, and here they're playing original compositions and arrangements that cover the spectrum of sax quartet possibilities. I get the most out of the completely original compositions, David Bindman's Pier Sketch and Climate Conditions and Fred Ho's Hipster Harvey. This quartet is ages away from others who specialize in that odd genre of museum-lobby quality, thin-lipped and somewhat repressed 20th century French saxophone quartets (Rivier, Bozza, Françaix, etc.).Right off the top, Bindman's Climate Conditions is a humid, almost sultry work which reflects the summer of its composition: I can hear the musicians lolling on a fire escape working through this one. The arrangements of the Ellington and Waller take us through some enchanted and almost devious solos, elsewhere there are very tight duos which reflect deep listening between the players. In Gadzo, based on music from Ghana, the soprano sax is wondrously transformed into an indigenous and nasal reed instrument.My only disappointment is that the disc sounds too much like it was done in one take and in sequential order. It's probably an artifact of my listening equipment (and that in the stereo field I tend to hear low sounds at left and high sounds at right), but I would have liked tohear the instruments come from different places in different numbers.-- Grant Chu Covell
JAZZUSA.COM JULY, 2001
Comparisons will be made to the World Saxophone Quartet - but these will fall short, as comparisons often do. This group is more muscular, less mannered and, if possible, more eclectic. They seldom play together but conduct a fractious dialogue; that is the point of "Climate Conditions", an ode to global warming. The saxes come out fighting, in bitter dissonance, with tiny moments of harmony in all the shouting. Fred Ho pops a drumbeat on his baritone; the others quote "So What" - a sarcastic appraisal of our concern? Chris Jonas chirps on a carefree soprano; He answers with a deeply rolling blues. Sam Furnace chimes in, his alto circling nervously; David Bindman brings his tenor in, and they all start screaming. All trill suddenly, like an alarm going off; Jonas pleads feebly at the end, as the others drown him in a unison roar. A strong statement, be it musical or political."Hipster Harvey" is a slugger, ascending with unbelievable power. Leaping up the stairs, the quartet sounds like a clarinet ensemble, shining with precision. After the giddy peak, they slowly travel down, like a deflating balloon. Here Jonas skates along, on a rich pulsing background. (Fred screeches in a moment of bluster; he's quickly become one of my favorite baritones.) They mimic the whole orchestra on "Sentimental Mood": punchy "brass" riffs, slurping reeds, and Jonas on top like a flute. The textures keep changing on this one; it never quite jells, though there are lovely moments. (Bindman has a luscious solo near the end - you will have to hear it.)"Gadzo" has a foot in two worlds: at one moment a percussive march, in the next a Trane-like free-for-all. Chris has a poetic soprano, on which he weeps with eloquence. Ho's solo reaches high, to the range of an alto; when he flutters back down, the march resumes. "Pier Sketch" reminds me of The Simpsons; the theme is similar, along with its adventurousness. Bindman and Furnace share a funky phrase, which in time grows fangs. Fred clicks his tongue near the end, leading Chris to travel a similar road. Working like Dolphy's intro to "God Bless the Child", Bindman slowly drifts into "Jitterbug Waltz". Fred sets the pace, the high horns lay the chords, and Jonas goes skating. We didn't expect such delicacy, but then again we didn't expect any of this. This group is strong, and they will be listened to.
-- John Barrett
Review of Strawman Dance:
Cadence Vol. 21 No. 6 June 1995 TYRONE HENDERSON & DAVID BINDMAN, STRAWMAN DANCE, KONNEX 5060. Grandmana I /Dark Times in the City / Strawman Dance I Sun Ra Dedication / Critical Vision / Corn Pipes and Dark Brown Dancing Feet / Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are-Ain't Seen Nothing Like This Before. Henderson, v, mbira, shaker, Bindman, is, fl; Wadada Leo Smith, tpt; Royal Hartigan, cl, whistle; Joe Fonda, b. Ree. Albany, New York nd.

Truly a merging of wide sounds, Strawman Dance brings together R&B-rooted vocal/voicings and a healthy punch of avant post bop improvising. Tuneful to the last, the CD revolves around themes set up and recorded by Henderson, then distributed for collective contribution to the shape of the melody lines. And the result is an exciting - and exacting - mix of the spirit and energy of Jayne Cortez's Firespitters and the critical commentary of the Last Poets. Where the Last Poets never seemed to record adequately with improvisers able to match their verbal gymnastics, Jayne Cortez lays down her language on a harmolodic ensemble so shifting in its near weightless ebullience that she seems a world away from folks like Henderson. But that's an overstatement. While Henderson doesn't really surrealize the way Cortez does he lays down social criticism on an unparalleled scale (except perhaps Axiom Records' Hakim Bey and former Last Poet Umar Bin Hassan), finding some tremendous sparring partners in the great Wadada Leo Smith and David Bindman. His take on urban America is rousing and delivered almost unadorned by instruments, save for Hartigan's clever funky drumming. Just as talking drums in many African musical traditions do indeed speak intelligibly to community members, so too does Royal Hartgan's rat-a-tap-tapping and Smith's sometimes exuberant trumpeting speak back when Henderson summons them. I ruly an updating of the radical out visions of sixties improvisers and textual artists, this is very much a session inspirited by the AACM's social consciousness and zest for merging poems and improvising. And the "Sun Ra Dedication" offers up more than a hint at where Henderson, et al. see Sun Ra making a socio-ideological contribution. Though the piece is 2-minutes long, it brings Ra into the contemporary polilical dialogue instrumentally (no text here), perhaps throwing "space" talk into the turbulence of Henderson's activist textual performativity. The rhythms here span the African diaspora, from the mambo of the title tune to the reading of "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues," and the Akan rhythms Hartigan lays down in "Critical Vision." Leo Smith sounds poised on an ever-developing sound of trumpet: fat and warbly, worrying the edges of his brassy 'line' and inspiring Bindman, et al. to great heights. It's fantastic that avant improvisers still take up politically oriented textual improvisations and don't sound bland or poppish. I think this is a document on which we will look back the way we now 'See" Langston Hughes reading with Charles Mingus; truly an achievement.
Andy Bartlett

Line drawing by Iliana Zamorska.

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