David Binney: A Glimpse of The Eternal

The heretofore largely edgy, modernist New Yorker has moved to LA and produced a mellower set that goes as far back as Harry Warren

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The alto saxophonist’s 10th date for Criss Cross as leader finds him in the nonpareil company of Craig Taborn (replacing Jacob Sacks from earlier versions of the quartet), Eivind Opsvik and Dan Weiss. There are six Binney originals together with “obscure tunes that mean something to me”, as the leader comments, by Vince Mendoza, Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner and Harry Warren.

There have been changes since Binney’s earlier work for Criss Cross. In 2018, Binney moved to Los Angeles, and in 2019, sadly, label founder Gerry Teekens died. His son has revived it, and this fine album is one very rewarding result.

Binney has a distinctive vision, and his quartet features first-rank improvisers and instrumental masters. The leader describes the album as “completely different than anything I’ve ever done – chilled out, an honest and pleasant vibe, nothing too complicated or intense”.

At first he wanted to produce an all-ballad album on the model of 1950s-60s Gene Ammons. But as he incorporated more uptempo tracks, his intense, darkly sinuous melodies and lines have come to the fore. Indeed, the brief original track titled Group is entirely free.

There are memorable covers of Jan Garbarek’s catchy Blue Sky and Ralph Towner’s intense Nightfall. Craig and Craig 2 are Binney compositions that form the basis for reflective solo piano interludes. But the highlight, for me, is Harry Warren’s little-known I Had The Craziest Dream. Taborn’s solo is elegant, while Binney’s becomes freer as it develops. The warm, vibrato-laden restatement would surely be approved by Harry himself. The Italian-American composer (1893-1981), born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna, was the first major American songwriter to write primarily for film, and one of the finest. How about a tribute album from the quartet, David Binney Plays The Music Of Harry Warren?

Discography
Our Place; In A Way; Ambivalence; Vibe Changer; Craig; Blue Sky; Nightfall; Dave; Group; A Glimpse Of The Eternal; The Cat And The Moon; Craig 2; I Had The Craziest Dream (56.54)
Binney (as); Craig Taborn (p); Eivind Opsvik (b); Dan Weiss (d). Astoria, NY, 29 June 2021.
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