David Binney - "Cities and Desire"

(Criss Cross Jazz)
David Binney

Review by Brad Walseth

A blowing session of remarkable depth and beauty, alto saxophonist/composer David Binney's "Cities of Desire" succeeds eminently in its attempts at supercharging the modern jazz sound. Amazingly recorded in one day by Binney with his recent regular rhythm section of Thomas Morgan on bass and Dan Weiss on drums, along with familiar sidemen Craig Taborn on piano and Mark Turner on tenor sax, "Cities of Desire" straddles the line between free jazz interplay and melodic compositional integrity with flair and vigor.

Taking its title from a section of Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities," in which Marco Polo recounts tales of imaginary cities to the emperor Kubla Khan, Binney's thematic thread is the aspects and impressions of various cities he has traveled to and which have played a part in his life. From a haunting "Lisbon" to a rollicking "New York City," pictures are painted of cities from across the globe. Sometimes, as in "Toronto" - where drummer Weiss shows his tabla skills (representing the vibrant Indian population of that city), the music fits the portrait presented, but it is never clichéd; and even without the program, the music is always exciting, with complex shifts in time and structure and varied melodic color and tone. As it should be, the artist's own feelings and conceptions about his subjects permeate the songs - as in "Miami" (homeplace to his late father), which is presented not as a city of neon and art deco, but as a place of tranquility and wistful sadness. Here bassist Morgan plays a touching solo, Taborn's piano lines are quietly sensitive, while the altoist's sweetly emotive solo speaks volumes.

When not playing glimmering cascades of single horn lines ("Rome"'s solo is perhaps the most unforgettable highlight of the entire album), Binney plays in unison or trades intricate and agressive (in a positive sense) interplay with Turner on songs like "London," the ever-shifting powerhouse "New York City," and the killer "Montreal," while beneath them bassist Morgan seems committed to making every note count. Pianist Taborn comps artfully, and adds shimmering and graceful solos of his own. Meanwhile, expansive drummer Weiss is given considerable rhythmic responsibility in Binney's arrangements and takes full advantage of the opportunity. The drummer especially shines on songs such as "Los Angeles" (of course) and "Montreal," which border on a rock feel and add an element of surprise and energy to the proceedings.

Featuring great writing and wonderful playing by some of the hottest players from today's New York City jazz scene, "Cities and Desire" is an exotic musical travelogue that you will be sure to enjoy.

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