When Taylor Ho Bynum took the helm of the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble this fall, he brought not only skills as an acclaimed cornet player, bandleader, composer and producer, he also brought a hefty contact list of top-drawer artists with whom he plays in and records in one or more of the many ensembles he leads or performs in.
The Coast and its audience will meet a stellar selection of these musicians in a residency and concert by the Coast and its guest on Saturday, February 24, 8 pm, in Spaulding Auditorium of the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College—a program of music ranging from traditional jazz to the avant-garde, that “blends the lines between composition and improvisation to create a musical expression of both elements,” said Bynum.
Joining the Coast’s 20 student members—18 instrumentalists and two vocalists—are eight guests who span generations, backgrounds, and geographies: alto sax player Jim Hobbs and trombone/tuba player Bill Lowe, who will also contribute compositions to the evening’s program; and Mary Halvorson (guitar), Tomeka Reid (cello), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax), Stomu Takeishi (electric bass), Ken Filiano (acoustic bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums).
While on campus starting a few days before the concert, these guest artists will hold an open rehearsal, meet with students doing independent studies in composition, and conduct workshops with students from the rhythm, sax and brass sections of the Coast and also conduct a composition/improvisation workshop – examples of the mentoring of Coast players by professionals that’s part of Bynum’s vision for the Coast, under his direction.
The concert repertoire includes acknowledgements of the jazz tradition, compositions bearing literary inspiration, new explorations and a world premiere. As a teenager, the first great big band Bynum ever heard live was James ‘Jabbo’ Ware’s Me We and Them Orchestra (of which his mentor Bill Lowe was a charter member) – Bynum pays tribute with “Three (for Me We and Them)”. Lowe’s own “Naptown/Trenton” is a swinging homage to the hard bop he heard growing up in Trenton, NJ in the 1950s, while his “Evening Song” draws text and inspiration from Jean Toomer’s Cane, an experimental classic of the Harlem Renaissance. Jim Hobbs captures the Monkey spirit of China’s Journey to the West in his rollicking “Aware of Vacuity”, and in “Wolves and Blizzards”, Bynum takes not just words but genre-hopping structure from David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas. The guest artists will assemble to premiere two movements of Bynum latest extended composition “The Ambiguity Manifesto” – “Neither When Nor Where” and “Real/Unreal (for Ursula K. Le Guin)”. Finally, all the guests and the Coast will join forces for a blow-out performance of Bynum’s “Sleeping Giant” – a composition Bynum likens to a set of hiking trails, “possibilities and paths, rather than fixed destinations.”
It’s a chance to hear, in one concert, some of the most critically acclaimed artists in contemporary music:
- Over his five-decade career, bass trombonist and tubaist Bill Lowe has worked with legends like Frank Foster and Clark Terry, leaders of the avant-garde like Cecil Taylor and Henry Threadgill, and under-heralded greats like Bill Barron and Makanda Ken McIntyre.
- Saxophonist Jim Hobbs’s long-running ensemble The Fully Celebrated Orchestra has been a force on the Boston music scene since they started playing free jazz at punk rock clubs in the 1980s; he’s been described as “one of his generation’s most gifted altoists” (AllAboutJazz).
- Mary Halvorson is one of improvised music’s most in-demand guitarists, working with artists including Anthony Braxton, Jason Moran, Marc Ribot, and John Zorn, headlining performances at the Newport Jazz Festival and the Village Vanguard, and winning guitarist, rising star, and rising star composer of the year in the most recent Downbeat Critics Poll.
- Cellist Tomeka Reid has been described as a “new jazz power source” by the New York Times, has closely collaborated with artists like Nicole Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and was declared “Jazz Chicagoan of the Year” by the Chicago Tribune and “Chicago Jazz Hero” by the Jazz Journalists Association.
- German-born, NYC-based Ingrid Laubrock has received attention for her saxophone playing and bandleading, collaborations with Anthony Braxton, Kris Davis, Tom Rainey, and Tyshawn Sorey, and her composing for ensembles ranging from trio to full orchestra; the New York Times describes her music as “omnivorous and pointed, slouching and precise, humorous and austere.”
- Japanese-born electric bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi has been a treasured collaborator for Henry Threadgill, Paul Motion, Myra Melford, Brandon Ross, and Cuong Vu, among many others; The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century writes “Takeishi has taken Jaco Pastorius’s fretless sound the furthest in New York’s avant-garde contexts.”
- Also a composer and bandleader, Ken Filiano has been the first call bassist for artists like Bobby Bradford, Connie Crothers, Vinny Golia, Jason Hwang, Warne Marsh, Roswell Rudd, and countless more, critics have called him a “creative virtuoso” and “a master of technique”. (Ken also carries a strong local connection – his brother is a doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.)
Last but not least, drummer Tomas Fujiwara is described as “a ubiquitous presence in the New York scene…an artist whose urbane writing is equal to his impressively nuanced drumming” (Point of Departure), leading his own bands like Triple Double and the Hook Up, and playing in contexts ranging from artists like Anthony Braxton, Nicole Mitchell, Matana Roberts, and John Zorn to stints with the off-Broadway hit Stomp and the musical Fela!.
More than just a thrilling concert line-up, these guest artists are starting what Bynum envisions will be long-term associations with the Coast and Dartmouth musicians, returning for future concerts, residencies and master classes.