Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brian Landrus Trio - The Deep Below (2015)

Brian Landrus is hardly the first jazz saxophonist to specialize in the low reeds, but he’s part of such a rare breed, you’d be forgiven if you thought he was. Maybe our long-held fascination with the high-timbred horns have conditioned us to ignore a reed any huskier than a tenor sax, but the baritone and bass saxes along with the somewhat more popular bass clarinet and the nearly unknown bass flute all possess a deep, rich sound that’s harder to attain on the popular alto and soprano saxophones.

Landrus has been able to exploit those advantages in everything he plays, and is unafraid to explore new vistas for doing it. He’s made a string of electro-acoustic records with his Kaleidoscope quintet that would have been forward-thinking even if he had chosen to lead them with a kazoo, the last such release even adding a small string section.

For his latest album The Deep Below (BlueLand/Palmetto Records” target=”_blank”>Palmetto Records), Landrus pulls the plug, so to speak, scaling down to your basic acoustic trio. In choosing a star-studded rhythm section of Lonnie Plaxico (standup bass) and Billy Hart (drums), Landrus aligned himself with musicians who shared with him a history of performing on edgy, electrified jazz records but are just as comfortable in a relaxed, straight-ahead setting, the very setting of this record.

These fourteen, concise statements explore both the richness of Landrus’ own composing abilities as well as his interpretation prowess on a handful of familiar classics. “Fly,” which he co-wrote with Plaxico, is firmly fastened by Hart’s driving rhythm and Plaxico’s supple bass, making Landrus’ job of sketching out the melody on his bari sax much easier.

Landrus’ bass sax throws off such a sultry sound for “The Beginning,” and when he solos so sweetly on it, Hart is improvising right alongside him while holding the swing steady. The multi-reedist conveys hushed sentiments on bass clarinet for “Fields Of Zava” and on the bass flute for “Will She Ever Know,” while on “Ancient” he explores the low, muted end of that flute.

Landrus’ baritone caresses Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” like an old vet, taking his cues from baritone master Harry Carney. The Sinatra ballad “Im A Fool To Want You” begins with a woody bass figure announcing the memorable melody, and Landrus plays it like Billie would sing it. When Plaxico returns to perform a high-end bass solo, he all but mimics that of a graceful, fingerpicked acoustic guitar.

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is one of those ‘acid test’ tunes for sax players, and Landrus takes it on a cappella with his baritone. Until the end he refers to the melody only coyly, hiding it between his own sheets of notes.

After taking so many steps forward, Brian Landrus took a step back into tradition for The Deep Below — albeit on his own terms — and made a reconnect with the roots that had always anchored his playing.

Sophisticated Lady
The Beginning
Fields Of Zava
Giant Steps
Will She Ever Know
It Comes Together At The End
Just A Fading Memory
I'm A Fool To Want You
Orebro Treatment
Open Water
The Age
Once Again

Brian Landrus, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, bass saxophone, bass flute
Lonnie Plaxico, acoustic bass
Billy Hart, drums