Bird is the Worm has documented plenty examples of musicians attempting to blend influences, mesh approaches, and fuse together contrasting sounds. If anything, this is both typical of the modern jazz scene, as well as its primary contributing factor to why Jazz has become so difficult to define and categorize. The upside is that this approach leads to some exciting music, even if not all of it is entirely successful. The creative spirit that drives Jazz leads to the most wonderful of surprises.
Key to bringing together disparate elements in the same recording is to render the individual ingredients into a new form and altered shape that still allows them to float to the surface with their identities intact, while simultaneously having a transformative effect on the other, contrasting elements. The influences must be changed and not changed, recognizable and brand spanking new.
On Mirage, the gorgeous new recording by the Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope, the funk and groove of 70s soul jazz is meshed with the modern jazz utilization of strings, and the resultant sound is one that should serve as a vanguard example of how to fuse disparate elements into one on a modern jazz recording.
Your album personnel: Brian Landrus (baritone & bass sax, bass & contra-alto clarinets, bass flute), Rudy Royston (drums), Nir Felder (guitar), Frank Carlberg (piano, Rhodes), Lonnie Plaxico (electric & acoustic bass), Mark Feldman (violin), Joyce Hammann (violin), Judith Insell (viola), Jody Redhage (cello), and Ryan Truesdell (conductor).
This wasn’t just a wild Hail Mary shot that just luckily found its mark. On previous recordings, Landrus has shown an adept touch with the groove-focused sound, instilling an elegance into the bright electric fusion. And conductor Ryan Truesdell displayed his talent at wielding a big sound and giving it a crystal clear focus on his Gil Evans Project. Pianist Carlberg, perhaps more than anyone on this session, has been involved in a crazy display of crossover projects. Veteran bassist Plaxico was the perfect choice for an album that is anchored to grooves, and drummer Royston’s pronounced drumming on Bill Frisell’s heavily melodic recordings is exactly what this project required. Guitarist Felder has the rock ‘n roll thing going for him, as well as the Greg Osby reference, but it may be his contribution to Ben Wendel’s genre-bending Frame that is most illustrative of why Felder sounds right at home in the mix of influences that mark Mirage.
And then there’s the string quartet. This is not a superfluous addition meant to boost the breadth of the album’s wingspan, nor is it a cheap grab at emotional soft spots. The strings share the stage both as soloists and accompaniment, sometimes working together as a team, sometimes breaking off from one another and getting to individual tasks of melodic development, rhythmic support, and harmonic initiative.
The sequence of the songs is of no little interest, with the melodic elements emphasized more in the first half of the album, and the rhythm taking increasing control as the album approaches its conclusion.
The album opens with “Arrival,” an up-tempo piece with a sunny attitude, gliding along through a series of solos that features strings and clarinet. Both melody and rhythm exemplify the song’s fluid motion, and both command equal attention, thus elevating this music’s seamless presentation to something quite as lovely as it is engaging. “Sammy” continues along this line, leading out with some alluring harmonics with strings and low-end reeds, before breaking into a spry cant, accentuated by the guitar section, and driven by Royston’s frenetic delivery on drums.
“Don’t Close Your Eyes” slows things down a bit, keys and strings insinuating a bit of an R&B groove… an insinuation that grows stronger when Landrus emphasizes it. Carlberg gets off a nice contribution here, dancing notes off the tips of the rhythm section’s needles.
The album has a couple of interludes. “A New Day” is all strings, serving as transition from the R&B groove of “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and the determined gait of “The Thousands,” a piece that opens with a Plaxico bass solo, then slides into a modern jazz piece that gets off quick shots, and then bobs and moves before returning for more. As the song reaches its conclusion, it echoes the melody of second track “Sammy,” and tightens up the album cohesion even more satisfyingly. “Reach” is a Landrus solo, deep voiced yet restrained, and bridges the gap between the languidly swaying “Someday” and the patiently building tide of title-track “Mirage.”
“I’ve Been Told” comes right out of the gates with a thick groove, and yet the buoyant melodic delivery by clarinet, bolstered by strings, gives the song an airy presence that belies its rhythmic quality. “Three Words” and “Jade” both maintain a similar vibe, though ramping up the contemporary fusion aspect a couple notches. But even here, the album’s cohesion in maintained with the contributions from the string quartet… on the former, via a nifty break in the action with a string solo, altering the course of the rhythm section, and in the latter, with a furious violin solo atop the groove and well-placed harmonic glides across the rhythm’s surface.
The album ends with “Kismet,” a Landrus solo with a storyteller’s heart and the economical delivery of an introverted thinker. It is both evocative and cerebral, and it’s a nice send-off to this excellent recording.
Released on BlueLand Records.
Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.
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