Live in Oxford

Convergence Quartet

Live in Oxford

FMR (2006)

PERSONNEL

Alexander Hawkins (piano), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Dominic Lash (bass)

"...suggesting a fundamental reassertion of composition within improvised music."

-Stuart Broomer
Point of Departure

NOTES AND INFO

"This music straddles the border between structure and freedom, moving uncontrivedly from prearranged but relatively sketchy 'heads' (often a mere hint of a melody or a repeated motif) to freely improvised passages skilfully utilising the entire range of sounds and textures, from quiet skittering to full-throttle free-for-alls, available to a band comprising cornet/flugelhorn (Baltimore-born Taylor Ho Bynum, an ex-Braxton student who has played with the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra among others), piano (Alex Hawkins), bass (Dominic Lash) and drums (Harris Eisenstadt, from Toronto). The telling exploitation of contrast (both stylistic and dynamic) is perhaps the band's greatest collective strength (on this album, Convergence ­ to take a representative piece ­ includes both an insinuating, quietly stated theme and roiling free passages), but individually, too ­ Taylor Ho Bynum incorporating everything from woozy smears to spearing runs into his playing, Alex Hawkins gunning the gamut from splashily percussive to pianissimo, Dominic Lash judiciously balancing steady support with solo excursions, Harris Eisenstadt driving the whole via everything from powerhouse rock-like beats to the subtlest of understatement ­ the band rivet the attention just as successfully on this recording as they did at their Vortex gig." Chris Parker THE VORTEX

"Recorded at a music building in Oxford, England, this international cast of highly-regarded improvisers use the building's wonderful acoustics as a vantage point here. Therefore, it's an organic program that resonates with the musicians' multifaceted mode of attack. More importantly the program is a study in contrasts. Whether it's Alexander Hawkins' pumping or gingerly executed voicings atop asymmetrical pulses or the band's minimalist like dialogues, this album truly is a convergence of musical ideas. Featuring five semi-structured pieces that enable the instrumentalists quite a bit of room for expression and expansion, there are parts where Hawkins phrasings seemingly roll off Harris Eisenstadt's polyrhythmic pulses. Trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum frequently revs it up while also working within budding themes, firmed-up by bassist Dominic Lash. Another component of the artists' musical architecture pertains to their integration of tangible themes into the improvisational element. And at times, the dialogues elicit thoughts of people scurrying around a room, where the band engages in cat and mouse exchanges. On Goodbye, Sir, they purvey a sense of loneliness and isolation but eventually up the ante with heated, interweaving dialogues. Overall, this is a convincingly solid engagement that highlights the band's morphing of ambience, finesse, power and intricately devised subtleties. It's all executed with a sense of purposeful exploration. An excellent outing, indeed..." Glenn Astarita E-JAZZNEWS

"Anyone in the know, is well aware of the young master, Taylor Ho Bynum, from his recent collaborations with Anthony Braxton, as well as a handful of his own discs. Since moving back from L.A., where he worked with Adam Rudolph, Sam Rivers & Vinny Golia, Harris Eisenstadt has become another of those fine local percussionists who has turned up in many different projects over the past few years and has a half dozen fine discs of his own. I can't say that I had heard of the other two players before this, but I am greatly impressed. Each musician contributes a piece, while Taylor gets one long and one short one. Taylor's Miscellaneous opens with a fine drum solo, soon the bass, cornet and piano enter. The rhythm is like twisted funk with Taylor adding odd smears against the groove. The next section features cornet fragments, bowed bass scrapes, restrained free percussion and piano eruptions. It ends with a similar closing theme to the beginning. Dominic Lash's Goad has Taylor bending his notes slowly in the distance and then the rest of the quartet enters in swirling waves. A series of intricate duos and trios take place, as the musicians exchange roles and ideas. Harris' Convergence opens with a haunting bass solo, a great theme unfolds with an unforgettable melody played by the flugel and piano over a grand throbbing bass line and hypnotic percussion groove. The theme reminds me of one of those wonderful South African songs and Alexander takes an appropriate Keith Tippett-like rambunctious, free piano solo. Alexander's Goodbye, Sir is next and begins freely and sparsely with Taylor's free-wheeling cornet insanity while Alex plays soft eerie sounds inside the piano. The piece gets more and more spare, until midway point when it slowly erupts with some restrained yet intense free piano and percussion. Taylor's mm(pf) brings things to a close with sparse and haunting sounds that float freely yet seem playfully connected and concludes with a nice melodic themed ending. This is a most interesting disc that evolves through a variety of unexpected directions and will take some time to absorb completely." Bruce Gallanter DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY

"The Convergence Quartet consists of two North Americans and two Brits. The musicians seem to be taking the band name seriously, as the music is clearly informed by the intersections of methodologies; even though the pieces are shaped by free improvisation, each of the five tracks credits a single composer. The first piece, Bynum's Miscellaneous, nicely recapitulates the textural history of jazz, whether it wants to or not, beginning with the cornetist's fine averaging of Bubber Miley and Tricky Sam Nanton with the big beat, Sonny Greer-style orchestral drumming of Eisenstadt. Before the theme is recapitulated, Hawkins' solo has some of the animation of Cecil Taylor: it's a short and circular history. Lash's Goad is then the sonic inverse, initially a collection of wisps and stutters that maintains that level until a piano solo creates strong linear continuity and animation, triggering a rhythmic figure from the cornet that might be a composed bridge to another passage of improvisation, dynamic sostenuto piano scurry leading to a final angular trumpet part consisting of sturdy and pointed blasts. A bass solo introduces Eisenstadt's Convergence, gradually gaining in rhythmic specificity to introduce something that Henry Mancini would recognize as a theme, with bass and drums working in close tandem. While Hawkins gradually takes it out with Tippett-ing flurries, segments might be described as "in the pocket," by those who actually use that phrase. There's a wonderful moment here in which Bynum plays call and response with himself at the same time that he's interacting closely with Eisenstadt. Hawkins' Goodbye, Sir is more obscure in its underpinnings, beginning with sound-play solos from Bynum and Eisenstadt before thematic materials emerge with a group passage that leads to free (jazz) improvisation that's a highlight of the performance. The final and brief Bynum piece, mm(pf), reasserts a pattern here, strong tonal agreement arising out of apparently random activity. What this music means in relationship to how it's assembled will be determined in each individual listening, but its ambiguities of construction form a particular invitation to inquire into the time and manner of its making. One of its characteristic gestures is a movement from improvisation to pre-structured material, thus structuring material in advance of our hearing, changing our temporal relationship to its construction while suggesting a fundamental reassertion of composition within improvised music. It also thematizes the idea of free improvisation as a prelude to something else that has already conditioned it, turning improvisation into something the music is about rather than a method of making it. The liner essay by Simon H. Fell is a useful inquiry into the issues posed by this music." Stuart Broomer POINT OF DEPARTURE

"A not-too-friendly unit whose means of expression is a mixture of linearity and complexity applied in equal doses over the course of five tracks, each one curiously penned by a lone component but not revelatory of its composer's primary instrument's influence. The large part of the album sounds like pure improvisation, though, with just a modicum of pretty minimal themes to which the players return after the most difficult unpremeditated sections. A Mark Isham-like trumpet draws horizontal lines of calmness amidst Cecil Taylor-ish spurts in Convergence, only to start babbling and clamouring while riding a muscular vamp by Lash, while Eisenstadt, the author of this particular piece, accompanies and underlines with masterful sensitiveness, at times coming to the front in the mix with rare outbursts. Hawkins' Goodbye, Sir is very variegated, fractured in a way, lots of quasi-silences interrupted either by complex interplay or introvert explorations by a single instrument; think "XX-Century dissonant marching band, power switched alternatively on and off", with additional pinches of solo follies to render the music even more unbalanced. The live recording captures the group as a resonating, often booming whole, the instruments exploiting the natural reverberation of Oxford's Jacqueline Du Pré Music Building to represent a collective picture where details are to be intuited and guessed rather than individuated. The dynamic contrasts always remain within the borders of acceptability also for less expert ears, transforming the experience in an exercise in attentive listening that needs concentration to give out its secrets." Massimo Ricci TOUCHING EXTREMES