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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Revisiting a Lavish, Exquisitely Textured, Symphonic Big Band Album by Brian Landrus

Listening to one Brian Landrus album makes you want to hear more. It’s impossible to think of another baritone saxophonist from this era , or for that matter any other, who’s a more colorful composer. Landrus’ masterpiece so far is his titanic Generations big band album, which hit the web about four years ago and is streaming at Spotify. A grand total of 25 players go deep into its lavish, meticulously layered, completely outside-the-box charts .

It opens with The Jeru Concerto, equally inspired by the patron saint of baritone sax big band composition, Gerry Mulligan, as well as Landrus’ young son. Right off the bat, the band hit a cantering rhythm with distant echoes of hip-hop, but also symphonic lustre, the bandleader entering suavely over starry orchestration. He ripples and clusters and eventually leads the group to a catchy, soul-infused theme that could be Earth Wind and Fire at their most symphonic and organic.

A tightly spiraling solo baritone interlude introduces the second segment on the wings of the string section, Landrus’ soulful curlicues and spacious phrasing mingling with the increasingly ambered atmosphere and an unexpected, cleverly shifting pulse. The third movement calms again: watch lights fade from every room, until a more-or-less steady sway resumes. The textures, with harpist Brandee Younger and vibraphonist Joe Locke peeking up as bustling counterpoint develops throughout the group, are exquisite.

The conclusion begins with an altered latin groove, the bandleader shifting toward a more wary theme, neatly echoed in places by the orchestra, ornate yet incredibly purposeful. Landrus moves between a balmy ballad and anxious full-ensemble syncopation, cleverly intertwining the themes up to a casually triumphant final baritone solo.

Orchids, a surreal reggae tune, opens with a starry duet between Younger and Locke and rises to a big sax-fueled peak. Arise is even more playfully surreal, a haphazardly optimistic mashup of Kool and the Gang and Gershwin at his most orchestrally blustery. The Warrior has a Holst-like expanse underpinned by a subtle forward drive from the bass (that’s either Jay Anderson or Lonnie Plaxico) as well as incisive trumpet and violin solos and a triumphant march out.

Arrow in the Night is a comfortably nocturnal prelude with a dark undercurrent: things are not always as they seem. With its persistent, top-to-bottom light/dark contrasts, Human Nature comes across as a busier yet vampier take on classic Gil Evans.

Ruby, dedicated to Landrus’ daughter, has as much gentle playfulness as balminess, with puckish accents, a lyrical baritone solo and an undulating rhythm: this kid is fun, but she’s got a plan and she sticks to it. The ensemble close with Every Time I Dream, a catchy, dancingly orchestrated hip-hop theme akin to a more lavish take on Yaasin Bey’s adventures in new classical music, flurrying trumpet pulling the orchestra out of a momentary reverie.

An epic performance from a rotating cast that also includes drummers Billy Hart andJustin Brown, Jamie Baum, Tom Christensen, Darryl Harper, Michael Rabinowitz and Alden Banta among the reeds; Debbie Schmidt, Ralph Alessi, Igmar Thomas, Alan Ferber and Marcus Rojas as the brass; and a string section of Sara Caswell, Mark Feldman, Joyce Hammann, Meg Okura, Lois Martin, Nora Krohn, Jody Redhage and Maria Jeffers.

March 29, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romance Conquers Everything in Brian Landrus’ Lush, Quietly Thrilling Album

If there’s one thing the lockdowners fear even more than massive crowds of us assembling against them, it’s romance.

Millions of people out in the streets can get pretty fired up, but love conquers everything.

Ultimately, why did the lockdowners come up with their crazy six-foot rule? To keep people from falling in love. If we are kept in a constant state of terror, paralyzed by the fear that everyone we see is spreading a seasonal flu rebranded as the apocalypse, we are very easily divided and conquered.

But throughout history, people have fallen in love that no matter what, even in the Nazi death camps. And that’s why the lockdowners are destined to fail: because the one thing that could save them is alien to them, in fact, completely unattainable. Consider: there is no one more profoundly lonely than a tyrant. So today, let’s celebrate our ability to get close to the ones we love with one of the most unabashedly and eclectically romantic albums of the past several months: Brian Landrus’ For Now, streaming at Soundcloud.

Landrus is one of the kings of the lows. Baritone sax is his main axe. In moments where he wants to get particularly slinky, he’ll switch to the bass clarinet. He put out a lusciously lustrous big band album, Generations, about four years ago. But he obviously hasn’t gotten those epic, majestic sounds out of his system – and let’s hope he never does. This record is most notable for Landrus scoring Fred Hersch on piano, a guy who knows a little something about emotionally attuned sounds. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart keep things chill and close to the ground.

They open with The Signs, a genially blues-infused swing tune fueled right from the start by Michael Rodriguez’s low-key, purist trumpet. then Hersch brings his signature wit and erudition to the equation. Landrus echoes Rodriguez’s terseness; everybody harmonizes warmly at the end.

Hersch anchors Landrus’ wafting midrange and gentle upward spirals with an aptly crystlaline, chiming attack in the second number, Clarity in Time, bolstered lushly by the string quartet of violinists Sara Caswell, Joyce Hamman, violist Lois Martin and cellist Jody Redhage-Ferber.

Is The Miss a fond shout-out to a certain girl, or a lament for an opportunity gone under the bridge? Definitely the former, it seems, with Hersch, Rodriguez and the bandleader weaving over the pillowy backdrop.

Hart and Gress build a subtle latin pulse in JJ, Landrus’ simmering solo handing off to Rodriguez’s spacious optimism and Hersch’s balmy charm, although there’s something unexpected around the bend. Landrus switches to bass clarinet for the album’s brief. broodingly sweeping title track and sticks with it on an absolutely gorgeous, plaintive solo take of “Round Midnight, uncovering the song’s wounded inner bolero.

Back on the baritone, Landrus channels guarded hope and then genuine thrills in Invitation, which rises quickly to a mutedly cosmopolitan, anthemic bustle. By now, everybody is cutting loose more: it’s just plain killer.

Landrus overdubs an intertwine of bass clarinet and bass flute over a subtly cresdendoing upward drive in For Whom I Imagined. Likewise, he sticks with the bass flute as Rodriguez puts on his mute for The Night Of Change, a lively, allusively tropical jazz waltz.

With its brassy thicket of an intro, The Second is basically a segue, a calmly loping, serenely triumphant number that echoes one of the album’s big influences, Harry Carney With Strings.

Her Smile has an irresistible cheer and several LOL moments, the strings more energized then ever. Caswell following Landrus with a jauntily swinging solo of her own.

They go back to waltz time for The Wait, Hersch’s expectant joy matched by Gress, Landrus’ bass clarinet spiraling fondly up the scale. He’s one of many – this blog is another – who assert that Hersch is this era’s most insightful interpreter of Monk on the piano, so it makes sense that the two would close the album with a casually expansive, late-night take of Ruby My Dear. Seldom has romance been so dynamically portrayed, in both ups and downs, as Landrus does here.

January 30, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brian Landrus Does It Again

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.

December 3, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment