July 20, 2015
Brian Landrus The Deep Below (Blue Land BLR-2015)
Although the baritone saxophone has had distinguished exponents in jazz, some of this artist’s chosen instruments are not at all commonplace. Indeed, all are usually confined to supporting roles in ensembles and, as the album title suggests, way down in the boiler room. Nevertheless, when in the hands of a gifted musician these instruments offer an intriguing tonal palette and apparent in every one of the tracks here is Brian Landrus’s mastery. On six tracks, he plays baritone saxophone, on five bass clarinet, on two bass flute, and on one bass saxophone. To jazz audiences, the baritone is the most familiar of his instruments and over the years there have been many fine exponents who have brought a personal sound to the instrument. Brian also achieves this, finding a sound that is highly individual and he brings to the music he plays a lightness and vibrancy not always associated with the instrument. Commendably, a similarly light touch enhances his playing of the other instruments. Joining him here are Lonnie Plaxico, double-bass, and Billy Hart, drums, both of whom provide elegant support. As Brian says, “With Lonnie and Billy, it’s never just a job – they’re too honest and organic as musicians.” Most of the music heard here is composed or co-composed by Brian and as he says, he “wrote the tunes right on my various instruments, just trying to create melodies that felt good on (them).” Clearly, they also felt good to him and they certainly sound good to the listener. Brian’s bass clarinet is heard on Fields Of Zava, and also, unaccompanied on Just A Fading Memory and Open Water. The three non-Landrus compositions are John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, I’m A Fool To Want You, by Jack Wolf, Joel S. Herron and Frank Sinatra, and Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady, on all of which Brian plays baritone saxophone. He is unaccompanied on Steps and brings to Fool a moving intensity that ranks with the best of the vocal versions of this plaintive song. Not surprisingly, Sophisticated Lady brings to mind Harry Carney, the baritone saxophonist who first brought it to life. As Brian says, this is “one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite players”. These are just a few of the many moments to cherish on this warmly recommended album.
Nick Finzer The Chase (Origin 82695)
The trombone was one of the instrumental casualties of the bebop revolution. From the early-1940s onwards, most of the notable players of the instrument were heard in mainstream settings and later in swing era revival bands. Only a few were heard regularly in bop groups and the principle reason for the decline in the instrument’s popularity was the extreme difficulty encountered in playing on the slide the frequently ultra-fast lines generated by trumpeters and saxophonists. Some trombonists mastered the craft and in recent years several master craftsmen have been heard much more frequently. Notable among them is Nick Finzer, a New York City-based musician who has been heard in company with artists including Frank Wess, John Clayton, Lew Tabackin, Terrell Stafford, and Lewis Nash. He has also played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Gil Evans Project. All tracks on this, his second album as leader, are Nick’s own compositions and he ably displays the breadth of this aspect of his talent. Throughout, the warmth of the instrument’s sound and flexibility is evident where in gentle ballads or storming up-tempo pieces. There are also moments when Nick’s knowledge of and delight in the history of jazz trombone surface, such as the Ellingtonian While You’re Gone. Accompanying Nick are saxophonist-clarinetist Lucas Pino, pianist Glenn Zaleski, guitarist Alex Wintz, bassist Dave Baron, and drummer Jimmy MacBride. All of these fine musicians work together regularly and their musical empathy is apparent throughout. All have solo moments with piano, guitar and reeds strongly featured, Lucas Pino’s choice of bass clarinet in some numbers being especially apt. This very attractive album should have wide appeal to fans of contemporary jazz and those who admire technical skill, especially when it is warmed by emotional fire. Noted trombonist Wycliffe Gordon has observed that Nick Finzer is “. . . the whole package.” He certainly is.
As always, these albums can be found through Amazon and for more information see also the artist’s sites as well as Braithwaite & Katz Communications.