Lucid Culture


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

A Beguiling Low Key New Release from Jazz Clarinetist Darryl Harper

One of the jazz world’s most diverse, individualistic voices on the clarinet, Darryl Harper spent two years as a member of the Regina Carter Quintet and has played with Orrin Evans, Dave Holland, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roscoe Mitchell, Freddie Bryant, Tim Warfield, Carla Cook and Uri Caine. As a bandleader, Harper has often recorded and performed in unorthodox lineups ranging from duo collaborations, to his four-clarinet octet, the C3 Project, to more standard combos including his critically acclaimed postbop group the Onus Trio. His new album The Edenfred Files – due out this June 4 on HiPNOTIC Records – takes its title from a particularly fertile period of composing at a Wisconsin artists’ retreat where Harper was invited in 2009. Joining Harper on this spare, intimate, richly melodic collection are his longtime Onus Trio bandmates, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Harry “Butch” Reed in addition to pianist Kevin Harris.

 The album begins with two works for clarinet, bass and drums. The first, “Blues for Jerry” by Harper’s old music faculty colleague Vicki Wiseblatt, is a jazz waltz set to a wryly shuffling groove. Harper chooses his spots with a full, round, woody resonance, as Reed slowly builds to a crescendo. Parrish’s solo rises elegantly against Harper’s hushed, atmospheric lines. “Sirens Calling” by Parrish is a triptych depicting a series of African water spirit images, from the ripple of insects breaking the surface of the water to the eerie creak of a slave ship, bookended by a moody atmospheric interlude with dancing clarinet over Reed’s intricately hypnotic tom-tom work. 

 “Spindleshanks,” the first of two Harper originals, has the clarinet and piano playfully shadowing each other in steady counterpoint until the clarinet leaves the picture. Harris’ solo builds an unexpectedly apprehensive, moonlit ambience. Inspired by South Indian Carnatic vocal music, “Walking with Old Souls” has Harris contrasting jaunty ornamentation with murky low-register pedal point against Harper’s pensively sostenuto, minimalist phrasing.

 The trio reinvents Julius Hemphill’s “Kansas City Line” – inspired by the saxophonist’s solo performance on the 1977 recording Blue Boyé – as a study in droll rhythmic japes winding its way from a long, tongue-in-cheek crescendo and artfully layered, shifting harmonies to a surprise ending. The Coltrane-inspired “Edenfred,” a title track of sorts, took shape as Reed sang it to the rest of the band. Alternating between easygoing, catchy funk and a nonchalant bouncy swing, Reed colors the piece with spaciously emphatic snare accents and misty cymbals as Parrish and then Harper dance overhead. The album ends with a solo piano interpretation of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” that works its way with a determined lyricism to a saturnine, gospel-inspired conclusion. It’s an aptly counterintuitive way to end this new recording from one of the most consistently unpredictable, entertaining reed players in jazz. 

June 1, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment