David Binney Quartet, The Vortex, London

The Vortex is the closest London comes to the small downtown New York bars, where experimental jazz is received enthusiastically by a crowd who realise that the music is something to listen to, not to chat over with fancy cocktails. Tuesday night's gig by this very impressive NY group had a real whiff of the city that never sleeps about it.</p>The tunes that the alto saxophonist David Binney writes are framed more like mini-suites than conventional songs with AABA structures. Several began with Binney and the pianist Craig Taborn fiddling about with electronic boxes, producing sounds that hovered and echoed as though heard through a heavy curtain. Various band members gradually pitched in â“ a chord cluster here, a rattle on the kit there â“ until a riff emerged seamlessly from the noise. Binney's "heads" (the tunes, although that implies something more purposefully melodic) are often short phrases, or even just one note, endlessly reiterated while the rhythm section plays another pattern of different length. The two times weave around each other, building a hypnotic momentum. Against that, Danny Yeiss, a highly inventive drummer, dropped beats and interrupted the feel as if he were throwing rhythmic spanners at the other musicians to stop them getting too comfortable.</p>Although it was often Yeiss who was driving against the traffic, the others took their turns, too. At least one of them anchored the feel, often Fima Ephron's electric bass, routed through a pedal that lent it the tubular sound of a Hammond organ pedal. Binney's mini-suites moved through jazz-rock, dreamy reflection and roaring climaxes with the thrust of a rocket.</p>Electronica, gimmicky in the wrong hands, was used to enhance the performance. Binney recorded loops of piano and drums, offering them up for Taborn to coat with a shimmering patina of sound. At other times Binney put the loops through his box of tricks: they emerged as though one were standing at the top of a stairwell listening to a ghostly band practise in an apartment far below.</p>Binney himself has a plain, unadorned tone without a trace of vibrato. But he has a quiet authority that complemented Yeiss's drumming and Taborn's piano, by turns romantic and percussive. This is an intelligent band producing very rewarding music.The English jazz scene explores some interesting footpaths, but this is what's happening on the American highway. </p>
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