Over the past decade, altoist David Binney has accrued accolades as one of the most in-demand saxophonists operating out of New York City. His dance card is often enviably full with projects of various stripes and persuasions under his own leadership and those of his many peers. Criss Cross is a regular conduit for some of these vehicles of expression. As Binney recounts the relationship, “It keeps me doing things that have been part of my life since I was a kid.”
That level of near-autonomy accorded to artist on the part of label is a relative rarity and a boon that Binney doesn’t take for granted. He describes the session as old school in that rehearsals were minimal with the band convened during an opportune convergence of breaks in touring schedules. The tunes reflect an overriding informality with four Binney-scripted blowing numbers complementing five jazz carbuncles that the players could easily play blindfolded. Two Blue Note-vintage Wayne Shorter pieces, “Toy Tune” and “Teru” speak to the subtle obliquities in Binney’s phraseology while remaining true their source incarnations. Binney also wins immediate points for his arrangement of the Sam Rivers far-too-rarely referenced chestnut “Fuchsia Swing Song”. A 14-minute explosive explication of Coltrane’s modal workout “Africa” signs the set off.
Binney’s sidemen are all regular associates well attuned to his Named by Binney as one of his favorite musicians, guitarist Wayne Krantz is also an occasionally distracting force on the date, particularly when he pulls from a derivative fusion bag. Despite some tight unison-play on the head, his rock-inflected solo on title piece devolves into near-wankery, coming across as Larry Coryell-lite and only serving to emphasize the piece’s leaden backbeat underpinning. Chunky wah-wah effects in the closing minutes of “A Day in Music” and shimmering atmospherics on “Strata”, accomplish similarly hobbling outcomes. Fortunately, these questionable sections occur sparingly and Binney’s incisive alto lines in concert with the expert rhythm section contributions repeatedly counterweight the scales back into welcome ensemble balance. Several of his pieces are riddled with metric suspensions and staggered beat constructions, all of which drummer Dan Weiss revels in bringing to life. No new ground broken, but rather familiar fertile soil tilled, this session sustains Binney’s positioning as one of the more accomplished stylists of his generation.