Tuneful Modes and Masterful Attack from Saxophonist Stan Killian
Texas-bred, New York-based tenor saxophonist Stan Killian has a gift for melodic transparency that makes a solid springboard for soloing and individual contributions. Yet while the group and solo performances on Killian’s new album Evoke are terse and direct, the compositions are what really jump out at you – that and Killian’s playing. He has a clear, uncluttered tone and a refreshingly direct melodic sensibility, with a passion for modal vamps and keen ear for microtones that he blends seamlessly into the songs’ fabric. And what he’s doing isn’t simply bending blue notes – his attack has more in common with Joe Maneri than, say, Sonny Stitt. The band –Benito Gonzalez on piano, Mike Moreno on guitar, Corcoran Holt on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums – stays on track with a purposefulness that’s remarkable even by the standards of the New Melodic Jazz. This is an especially tuneful album, all the more considering that many of the songs were inspired by the mechanical sounds of daily urban life, from construction equipment to the thump and clatter of the N and Q trains making their way into the Union Square subway station.
The opening tarck, Subterranean Melody begins as an attractively modal jazz waltz, then goes dancing in 7/4 with Moreno mirroring Killian over Hunter’s carefully crescendoing pulse. A slow ballad, Evoke juxtaposes Killian’s allusively dark, restrained, lyrical excursions against a moody modal backdrop. Echolalia, another uneasily modal number, makes a good segue with its a brief triplet interlude and hints of a latin groove spiced with Moreno’s judiciously placed clusters.
Kirby works off a a weird cyclical swing, bass and drums hitting on the final downbeat, up to a scurrying, nonchalant sax solo, Moreno again choosing his spots to break up the rhythm, Gonzalez hitting it hard as he takes the song upward. The pensively swaying Beekman33, inspired by a late-night jaunt through Bryant Park, builds from an uneasy stroll to muddled and rhythmic – clearly, what Killian thougth would be a walk in the park turned out to be something else.
Observation is a tribute of sorts to the diversity of New York personalities – if the song’s trickly rhythmic, almost peevish circularity is to be taken at face value, we are obstinate, persistent and leave an impression. The closing track, Hindu is not an exploration of Indian melody but a casually modal platform for Killian to reference some favorite influences from Joe Henderson, to Larry Young, to Woody Shaw, lit up by an incisive Gonzalez solo. Killian is currently on Asian tour and returns to New York for an early-evening, 6 PM album release show on 4/21 at his usual haunt, 55 Bar.
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