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Listening, Among Others

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“Graylen Epicenter” by David Binney (please listen while you read the post)

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I click on my iPod immediately when I step out of the building. The force of the wind tunnel barreling down the street slams into my face as the first sounds emerge. Lately, I’ve been listening to Dave Binney’s 2011 album Graylen Epicenter for hours on end.

I’m walking at a clip toward the Morgan Avenue L train stop. Past bodegas opening for the day, kids walking to school with their parents, a baseball team finishing up an early practice.

Track two, the title track, starts out bustling. Brian Blade’s ride cymbal sears at double time. Bass, piano and guitar leap together in dense clusters. Alto saxophone and trumpet soon enter with one of Binney’s characteristic unison horn lines, soaring contrapuntally with the jumping clusters.

After a minute of swirling lines, Blade cuts back to half time, slamming his open snare drum on two. The pulse opens. It breathes.

Wayne Krantz’s guitar rips in overtop the looping chord progression. Spacious. Measured. Lyrical. Krantz’s lines lie back just behind the beat, stretching the pulse elastic. The horns enter with a unison line gliding in the background, propelling Krantz’s leaping intervals forward with the drums smashing from below.

I turn onto Bogart Street, just steps from the station.

Within five paces, the pulse disintegrates, Krantz’s solo blurs out of time. Blade lifts the group into rubato with his cymbals. Binney’s alto and Ambrose Akinmusire’s trumpet seep in, weaving in and out of one another. The bass lulls underneath. Blade splashes his cymbals with mallets. The pallet is wide open, released from its former structure.

I’m on the platform and the train arrives, crashing through the whispering free-structured sounds in my headphones. I enter the car, standing just inside the threshold, listening, among others.

The alto and trumpet continue their improvised, interwoven lines.
Blade drags his sticks against the cymbals. High-pitched tones, like pulsating bells, or revolving metal wheels, slowly, quietly screaming to life.

I close my eyes in the train. The intimate sounds seem so disjointed from inside the hovering capsule and from each person’s experience of this public space. We all occupy our own insular worlds in the subway. Insulated within our ear buds, our books, our cell phones, our thoughts. It’s a shared experience, but also a detached one.

Blade’s eerily high-pitched cymbals continue to resonate. Akinmusire’s trumpet screeches in the distance, blurring into the fluttering high frequencies. The sounds are drifting. Creeping. Like circular movements felt but unseen.

Craig Taborn breaks the frozen time with a soft voicing on the piano. Gretchen Parlato’s wordless voice emerges with the pulse, resting on top of each piano voicing. She slides into each pitch, nearly whispering. There’s an astonishing beauty in Blade’s circulating unearthly tones, in Taborn’s light chords, in Parlato’s soaring voice out front. The kind of beauty that momentarily stops time. Erases your thoughts. Throws you into a profound experience of the immediate moment.

I’m riding out the music in my ears, in my own space, my own perception of the train’s ebb and flow, flying under the East River. Krantz’s elastic guitar lines. Blade’s circulating frequencies. Parlato’s lyrical articulations soaring above. Taborn’s subtle touch underneath. Binney’s screaming saxophone ricocheting off the driving bass.

This is my space. Perhaps others have theirs. But this is mine.

*******

 

Photo Credit: Hubbard, Tom courtesy of Special Media Archives Services

Feature photo:  Hubbard, Tom courtesy of Special Media Archives Services 

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