Monday, June 1, 2015

The Low Reeds & The Harmonic Mood

Brian Landrus, born in Reno, Nevada, is a graduate of the University of Nevada/Reno and earned 2 Master of Music Degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.  His list of work experience runs the gamut from soul music (The Four Tops, The Temptations) to r'n'b (The Coasters) to jazz (Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, Ryan Truesdell Gil Evans Project) and beyond.  He specializes in low woodwinds and on "The Deep Below" (BlueLand Records), he plays baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, bass saxophone, and bass flute.  It's his 3rd recording since 2012 to feature bassist Lonnie Plaxico (1960, Chicago) and the 2nd to feature master Billy Hart (1940, Washington D.C.) And, it's his first Trio date as a leader.

On one hand, one might be tempted to write that Sonny Rollins is the touchstone for this date but, on first listen, the name of Jimmy Guiffre came to mind.  It's the space in the music, the airiness of pieces such as "Fields of Zava" (bass clarinet), the "deep" blues that runs through "I'm A Fool To Want You" (baritone sax) and the playful variations of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" (played solo on bari sax).  The rhythm section is exceptional throughout the program.  Right from the opening notes of the first track "Fly" (bari sax, composedly Landrus and Plaxico), one can hear this is a true group effort/conversation.  On the Landrus original "Will She Ever Know", Hart's dancing brush work and Plaxico's bouncing line underscore the plaintive bass flute melody. The low flute makes a return on "Ancient", a stunning and understated ballad with whisper-soft brush work and full-toned bass (and his solo is quite melodic). The drummer's exuberant support on "The Age" kicks the bari sax forward while the bassist plays a melodic counterpoint.  Plaxico's moaning bowed bass and Hart's scrambling drums sounds create a mysterious aural soundscape for the final track, "Once Again" - during the bass solo, Landrus carries the bottom on his bass clarinet (be sure to listen for the Hart-beat at the very close of the tune).

Besides the Coltrane classic, there are 2 other solo performances.  The handsome woody tones of the bass clarinet makes "Just A Fading Memory" stand out. There's a poetic quality to the melody, the notes seeming to fade at the end of each line. It's bass clarinet for the other solo work, the gently flowing melody that is "Open Water."  Landrus keeps these pieces short yet each one sounds complete.

With 14 tracks clocking at 53 minutes, "The Deep Below" concentrates more on melody and group interaction than on long, convoluted, solos. The interplay of Brian Landrus, Lonnie Plaxico and Billy Hart makes this album so listenable, so enjoyable. For more information, go to

Here's the opening track:

Though the Chesky name is well-known in the recording industry for its groundbreaking audiophile label (started in 1978 by brothers Norman and David), I must admit I was mostly unaware of David Chesky's work as a composer and pianist.  One glance at his webpage ( is enlightening, informing one of his classical endeavors, compositions for dance troupes,  children's ballets and various jazz projects dating back to the .  In 2013, Chesky introduced his latest band, a quintet known as Jazz in the New Harmonic (pictured below) featuring Billy Drummond (drums), Javon Jackson (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Peter Washington (bass) and Jeremy Pelt (trumpet).

The quintet's second CD, "Primal Scream" (Chesky Records) posits the band in the heart of the late 1950s "Kind of Blue" sound that led to the classic Miles Davis Quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter.  To the composer's credit, he is not imitating that music as much as channeling the mood.  The opening cut, "Check Point Charlie" places the music in that era and conjures up the classic Davis Lp cited above. Mesmerizing  pieces such as "Kill The Philharmonic" and "Quiet Desperation" have a trance-like quality due mostly to the airy and angular quality of the piano chords and the circular bass lines. Yet, on the first track mentioned (and throughout the program), Drummond supplies the fire that heats the music.  He kicks hard beneath Pelt's passionate solo and drops into a funky "boogaloo" for Jackson's playful tenor spotlight. The title of the CD might conjure images of Dr. Arthur Janov's controversial therapy practices of the mid-1960s; the track itself has great energy coming from the bass and drums plus sparkling solos from Jackson and Pelt but the highlight is the dream-like piano solo (cannot miss the classical inferences) over the powerful rhythm section. The closing cut, the highly rhythmical "Sleepless In New York", has a playful melody for saxophone plus muted trumpet and piano counterpoint.  Washington's bass lines dance alongside Drummond's elemental drumming (no frills, just the constancy of the rhythm). When Chesky steps out, he picks up on the playfulness of the previous soloists but also gets deep into the bass "groove."

"Jazz In The New Harmonic: Primal Scream" makes no bones about its debt to the music of the masters and makes a powerful statement about the need for jazz to "dance" again.  David Chesky, through his music and prose, states "we're a groove-based society", inviting all listeners to this darkly shaded yet funky experience.  Kudos to all involved!

No comments:

Post a Comment