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SOUNDS AROUND TOWN : New York Story : The debut jazz album of Dave Binney, a Ventura native who now calls Manhattan home, has a definite Big Apple flavor.

July 18, 1991|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You may find yourself in a record store wondering, 'Who is this guy Dave Binney and why does that name ring a bell?' For anyone who paid attention to the Ventura jazz scene in the late '70s, the teen-aged Binney was one of Ventura's more prodigious products. An up-and-comer who came and went, Binney headed to New York in 1980 as an eager 19-year-old and never looked back.

With the release of his debut album "Point Game," on the Owl label, the local boy has made good on more than one level. Regardless of the leader's hometown connection, this is one of the current jazz releases worthy of attention. This is a tough-minded and impressively original project, in which Binney takes risks, improvises and stresses the importance of ensemble interaction. What else can you ask for your jazz-buying dollar?

And it sounds as if it came straight out of Brooklyn: Binney's exploratory sax style and his unsentimental mode of funk/jazz comes out of the relatively new tradition known as "M-Base" music. As with the music by that movement's kingpins--alto saxists Steve Coleman and Greg Osby--Binney's material represents a kind of post-fusion style in which the ethereal blends with the hard-edged.

From the style on up, this is clearly Binney's New York story. A slinky rhythmic pulse marks "The Bronx"--where he lived for a few years after arriving in town. "Riverside" is a lyrical ballad, dedicated to the street along the upper West Side neighborhood where he now lives.

Binney recently spoke on the phone from his home after returning from club dates in Europe.

Ventura was where he spent his formative years. "Both my mother and father loved jazz," he said. "My father was into buying records--Coltrane, Miles, Bobby Hutcherson, and also some rock stuff, like Jimi Hendrix. Music by people like Hendrix and Sly Stone was my first love and I still love it. Now, my mother is really into jazz. She goes to hear it all the time."

Binney's parents divorced and moved out of Ventura in the mid-'80s, and now live in Santa Monica and Miami. He still returns to town periodically to visit cousins and friends, including Ventura saxist Tom Buckner, who grew up and traded many a sax lick with Binney.

"Tom was my best friend," Binney said. "We played together and kind of had a competition going to see who could practice the most."

He picked up the sax while at Lincoln elementary school in Ventura, but Binney's beginning wasn't auspicious. "For the first two weeks I played, I had the mouthpiece upside-down."

As schooling continued, Binney delved deeper into music, playing in the bands at Cabrillo Junior High and Ventura High. At 16, his resolve and skills impressed Los Angeles saxist and teacher Lannie Morgan enough to get him into the Dick Grove school in L.A.--making him the youngest student there.

Starting with his first gig, at the Ojai Country Club, Binney played various jobs around town. "There were so many people I played with there off and on, it just seems like another life."

His fusion band Dovetail played at Charlie's--then a jazz haven--and featured drummer Doug Matthews and bassist Steve Wilkerson, who are still part of the Ventura scene. On keyboards was Will Boulware, a fine player and composer who lived in the area until he moved to New York a couple of years back.

There came a time when Binney felt compelled, for aesthetic and career reasons, to head to the other coast. "I didn't want to stay in Los Angeles and get into funk and David Sanborn imitations," he said. "That just wasn't appealing to me. The jazz scene seemed kind of boring to me there. I thought let me try New York, because I always wanted to go there, and if I don't like it I can always come back.

"I really liked it, musically. It was hard for me, culturally, at first. Then I got used to that also, to the point where it's just home to me now."

Almost upon touching down in New York, his sense of musicality was altered. "I changed my whole style and approach when I got to New York. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do. The general sound in L.A. was really bright and loud--like the big band sound--which I never liked. When I moved here, it was nice to get a sound which was the opposite of that and be accepted."

For the past few years, Binney has been working on securing an album deal. First, he got an NEA grant of $3,500 to record the album and hire top-drawer players. Through noted saxist Dave Liebman, who Binney studied with and who also records for Owl, Binney landed on the label, which is based in France but distributed in the United States by Mesa/Blue Moon.

Recorded in one day back in April, 1989, "Point Game" also features the talents of some of the best young musicians in jazz. Pianist Edward Simon, still in his early 20s, is a stunning player who balances taste with easy virtuosity. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico has been a central cog in the "M-Base" school of jazz. The brilliant drummer Marvin (Smitty) Smith is subtle and supportive, powering the session without overpowering it.

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