Low-register reedman Brian Landrus is on some kind of roll right now. His Traverse album from this spring is one of 2011’s finest; the one before that, Forward, from the previous year, is also superb. His latest effort, Capsule, credited to the Landrus Kaleidoscope (with Michael Cain on keys, Nir Felder on guitar, Matthew Parish on bass and Rudy Royston on drums) goes in a considerably different, mostly low-key direction while retaining every bit of Landrus’ originality. It’s an inventive blend of the 70s and the teens: spacy Fender Rhodes and electric guitar alongside rhythmically inventive bass and drums and Landrus’ signature use of the totality of his instruments’ sonic range. Here he supplements his usual baritone sax with bass clarinet and also bass flute.
Ironically, the album’s high point isn’t much like the rest of the material here. Inspired by a veteran drummer’s sardonic view of being a lifer, 71 & On the Road is a long, gritty, bitter, minor key soul groove in an Isaac Hayes or early Lou Rawls vein. Parish’s bass solo on the second verse adds plaintiveness over Royston’s tension, and when Felder finally bursts out of his tightly wound bluesy wailing with some unhinged tremolo-picking as the band vamps on the song’s brooding hook, it’s one of this year’s most transcendent moments in jazz.
The rest of the album is much more inviting and not nearly as dark. Landrus sets the tone right off the bat with the simple, direct warmth of Striped Phase, which sounds a little like what the Crusaders might have been like if they’d had Royston – who’s his usual counterintuitive, extrovert self here – in place of Stix Hooper. The second track, Like the Wind is a reggae tune – how Royston handles the riddim is too good a surprise to give away here. The band leaves it nice and minimalist, letting Felder go edgy and wary up to Landrus’ urgently whispery, lushly tropical bass flute solo. A staggered shuffle tune, Beauty gives Landrus a launching pad that he takes all the way up, as high as his bass clarinet will go, Cain and Parish teaming up for some Return to Forever outer-space atmospherics.
They go back to reggae for I Promise, lit up by Felder’s vivid rainy-night-in-Soho work – it reminds a lot of Pam Fleming’s reggae-jazz. The title track reverts to the warm, memorable simplicity of the earlier songs as Landrus artfully spaces his motifs, pulling some memorable overtones out of his bari sax as he reaches for the sky. Wide Sky hints at straight-up swing again, and again, and again, almost to the point where it’s comedic; the band comes full circle to close the album with an expansive ballad. When uploading this, you might want to pull out 71 & On the Road and stick that on your favorite haunting/intense playlist; the rest of the album then works tremendously well as chillout mix.
By the way, just to give you some insight into Landrus the individual, here are his brief liner notes: “I dedicate this record to all the animals in our world. I encourage you to find ways to support animal welfare, and I hope you realize how easy it is to help our environmental situation by becoming vegetarian. The amount of waste, pollution and suffering created by the meat industry is unnecessary.” That’s from a big, energetic guy who stands six foot seven.