Donn Bynum is an accomplished musician adept at skirting the boundary between Smooth and Urban Contemporary Jazz whilst adding touches from his lifetime experiences in varying musical genres. After years of furnishing established artists with his remarkable assorted talents, he has just released his second solo project entitled My Favorite Songs. Bynum is a skilled songwriter, sharing co-writing credit on ten of the twelve songs performed. The two non-Bynum penned songs which are included on My Favorite Songs are both wonderful choices and add greatly to the CD’s overall experience. The diversity contained is refreshing, perhaps due in part to Donn Bynum’s sharing the co-production with Lew Laing and Kynne Smith.
The engaging melody of ‘My Favorite Song’ opens the disc with a smooth jazz vocal by Bynum who also supplies the lead instrument of alto saxophone. Takahito Mori, who hails from the Tokyo music scene, adds gentle guitar as he does on numerous other tracks. Brian Lang and Lew Laing provide additional “music”, which consists of programmed drums and keys on this velvety song.
When Donn Bynum was 18 years old he began touring with Bootsy Collins and his Rubber Band and in the process learned to play funk from one of its originators. He applies that knowledge on the ultra-funky ‘Move Around’, an amusing work-out that announces a call to the dance floor and references many exotic dance locales. Lyrics include the humorous “you ain’t dead yet”, and “how can people know if you’re live or dead?,” as well as the sage funk-boogie advice that wherever you choose to dance: “all you got to do is move around”
“When I was coming up, we weren’t trying to get a hit or get paid, we were just trying to do our thing. The only thing we were really trying to do was to be recognized for our originality.” ~ Bootsy Collins
In addition to his extensive touring with Bootsy, Donn Bynum was on the road with legendary R&B acts The Brothers Johnson and The Commodores. During these stints he traveled all over North America, as well as Europe, Asia, and Africa. Enlightening road-trips with those two popular soul groups provide the impetus for the song ‘Have A Good Time’. The rhythm section of bassist Sekou Bunch and drummer Lyndon Rochelle groove a deep pocket for the joyful and soulful Bynum vocal. The song, just like the title indicates, is all about having a good time. Donn solos on alto sax as Taka Mori adds R&B guitar jabs to the carefree mix.
‘A Wonderful Thing’ is somewhat reminiscent of the overt romanticism shown by Barry White. A spoken intro followed by a Bynum vocal seizes The Prince of Pillow Talk’s come-hither seductive charm without White’s ultra-deep baritone, but does contain a richness nevertheless. Donn’s alto sax-work here is even more beguiling than his vocal and carries the song. In the end, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the song is all about love, and its value as ‘A Wonderful Thing’.
Donn Bynum unfolds his impeccable tone and phrasing on tenor saxophone with ‘Come With Me’, a song as inviting as its title suggests. He is also a masterful flautist, and exhibits a coolly impressive controlled restraint on that instrument as well. The drum-work by Lyndon Rochelle is a pleasant alternative to the drum programming used at other times on the record, giving the song a deeper textured shade.
Donn again plays beautiful driving tenor saxophone on ‘Play For You’, another of the songs co-written by Bynum with Lew Laing. The sequencing of the album has the first seven compositions all being the Bynum/Laing co-writes. An instrumental that burns with a sustained simmering heat, ‘Play For You’ at four minutes time seems to end much too soon. It is a very nice song that contains traces of The Commodores’ commercial soul/ contemporary jazz with the tenor sax acting as the lead vocalist. ‘Fly By Night’ follows and has some nice jazzy guitar from Tako Mori’s pairing with Bynum’s resolute alto play.
Bynum and his musical associates go “old school” with an exceptional tribute to Maze and Frankie Beverly with ‘Can’t Get Over You’, one of Maze’s biggest hits that embraces an enormously deep groove. The CD title again comes into play given that it seems that Donn’s favorite songs mirror mine in some regards with ‘Can’t Get Over You’ bringing back some great memories for me. The song was a number one R&B single for Maze, and it is tenderly treated to a wonderful instrumental cover version here. Drummer Lyndon Rochelle deserves special mention for the easy-grooving pocket he creates. Donn Bynum on tenor sax is emotive out front in the spotlight as he gives one of his most moving performances. Lew Laing on synthesizer and Tako on guitar provide staunch support to aid in making the song so memorable. It’s my first choice for a hit single – an excellent rendition of a superb song.
‘Warm It Up’ is another one of my favorite songs on the disc with Bynum displaying a deep passion with his horn. Paul Jackson, Jr. makes the first of his three My Favorite Songs appearances and his glimmering guitar is a counterpoint to Bynum’s alto musical musings.
An instrumental romantic ballad titled ‘There Goes My Heart’ gives Donn an opportunity to shine on soprano sax. Esteemed guest Paul Jackson, Jr. proves why his services are always in great demand, knowing how to enhance any music he applies his easy touch to. This sumptuous song was co-authored by the gospel award winning Kynne Smith (formerly Kenny Smith) and it is refreshing like Springtime Sunday morning with a message of cheerful hope melodiously made known. The second Donn Bynum/Kynne Smith song follows, titled ‘Right Now Right Now’. The melody and repetitive lyrics are introspective in nature and hypnotic in effect.
“I think that a musician is like a doctor, he’s supposed to heal people and make them feel better.” ~ Steve Turre, American jazz trombonist
The album closes with the gospel anthem ‘Nobody Greater’, which was written by Darius Paulk and is played in churches nationwide with its motivational words resonating with millions of people. Presented here in instrumental form, it still possesses a marvelous inspirational message due to the compelling love of Our Creator imbued into the song by each of the musicians engaged. Donn Bynum is magnificent on alto saxophone and flute and guest guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. subtly adds stirring depth. Lew Laing is again pivotal in lifting the music to the exalted level it reaches. In revealing his spirituality, Bynum joins other Contemporary Jazz musicians whose ranks include Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, Patrick Bradley, Ben Tankard, and Euge Groove amongst others transparent in divulging their glorious beliefs and the path they stride while infusing their music with these esteemed values.
There is a bracing diversity on My Favorite Songs. Donn Bynum has put his heart and soul and all his experience into making a disc that has songs that can appeal to a wide array of music lovers. Different songs on the disc may ultimately be able to reach assorted musical audiences. At the present time, he may not be a well-known name to the general mainstream music-buying public. But, if he continues to sincerely strive to release material such as My Favorite Songs, in which he gives freely of all the musical love inside himself, that reality may indeed change.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com