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Taylor Ho Bynum keeps his Boston connection

Brookline-raised cornetist crafts frontier jazz with sextet

Taylor Ho Bynum.Amani Willett

For Taylor Ho Bynum and his sextet all roads lead through Boston.

Over the past decade the Brookline-raised cornetist has become a major force on the outward-bound side of the jazz continuum. As a prolific composer and multifarious bandleader, as the cofounder of the respected label Firehouse 12 Records, and as a dogged supporter of avant-garde patriarch Anthony Braxton, Bynum has forged deep ties with many of the most adventurous improvisers associated with jazz over the past half century.

From top: Tomas Fujiwara, Jim Hobbs, Bill Lowe, Ken Filiano, Mary Halvorson, and Taylor Ho Bynum.Rachel Bernsen

He celebrates the release of his multigenerational sextet’s new Firehouse 12 album “Apparent Distance’’ tonight at Outpost 186, and while he didn’t meet all his bandmates in Boston, they share enduring ties to the Beantown scene.


The latest incarnation of the group features Boston-based brassmaster Bill Lowe, Brookline-bred guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Ken Filiano, Boston-born drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and altoist Jim Hobbs, the Boston stalwart who leads Aych, a new trio that plays the opening set. Bynum designs his freewheeling but lovingly calibrated music to showcase these singular instrumental voices.

“I’m an Ellington fanatic, and especially with this group I try to write for the individuals in the band,’’ says Bynum, 36, from his home in New Haven. “I’ve found that crafting material thinking about how the individuals in the band might manipulate and explore it is the best way to integrate composition and improvisation. It’s a particularly effective approach given the deep and long musical history we share.’’

While Bynum counts Fujiwara among his oldest friends, his most significant connection is with bass trombonist/tubist Lowe, who took the 15-year-old trumpeter under his wing and instilled a catholic sensibility that continues to serve him well. Bynum sought out Lowe when his high school dropped its music program, and the dedicated educator introduced him to the jazz tradition writ large.

“Bill is one of my musical fathers, and I wouldn’t be playing this music if it wasn’t for him,’’ Bynum says. “He’s someone who embraces a holistic definition of the music. He very quickly realized that I had a modicum of ability and a lot of interest and started hiring me as fourth trumpet on gigs, and that connected me to a whole scene of Boston musicians.’’


Bynum is equally effusive about Hobbs (“the baddest altoist on the planet, ridiculously unsung,’’ Bynum says) with whom he played extensively in the latter ’90s as a member of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra. It was the group’s bassist, Timo Shanko, who suggested that Bynum switch from trumpet to the smaller, more pungent cornet.

“He knew who my heroes were, players like Don Cherry and Rex Stewart,’’ Bynum says. “I was trying to improvise as much with sound as with notes and the cornet lends itself to that. It doesn’t have the trumpet’s accuracy or brightness, but it has a timbral flexibility that gives you a whole other set of possibilities.’’

While based in New York City for some two decades, the virtuosic bassist Filiano made a vivid impression during his Boston sojourn in the 1980s, starting with Mark Harvey’s Aardvark Jazz Orchestra (an ensemble that Bynum joined years later).

Bynum and Halvorson share so many milestones that their musical relationship seems fated, though they didn’t actually meet until they became bandmates under composer/reed expert Anthony Braxton. They graduated from Brookline High, attended the same summer camps, and dropped out of Wesleyan to go to the New School (though Bynum quickly returned to Middletown), parallel paths separated by Bynum’s five-year head start.


“We even lived in the same apartment in Brooklyn, though at different times,’’ Halvorson says.

These days they perform together in a handful of disparate ensembles. The Outpost double bill exemplifies the way in which their musical partnership keeps paying creative dividends. Hobbs credits their deep connection with inspiring the music for Aych (pronounced like the letter “H’’), his trio with Bynum and Halvorson documented on the upcoming CD “As the Crow Flies’’ (Relative Pitch Records).

“None of us were quite sure what it would be like without the safety net of a rhythm section,’’ Hobbs says. “I think it ended up like vintage Louis Armstrong or old bluegrass without drums, where the rhythm comes from within the music. Some passages sound like really weird porch music.’’

While investigating entirely different musical terrain, Aych and Bynum’s sextet share a preoccupation with subverting, ignoring, or otherwise challenging the usual roles assigned to instruments.

“As a cornetist, I love playing the supporting role, textures, background fills, and bass lines,’’ Bynum says. “With musicians like this it gives me such freedom. Mary is an incredible player with a huge body of sounds. Ken is amazing playing arco. Bill can double on tuba, and Tomas is an extraordinarily melodic drummer.’’

Fortunately what happens in Boston often doesn’t stay in Boston, and that’s a very good thing for jazz.


Andrew Gilbert can be reached at jazzscribe@aol.com.