Caliber of teacher is often a reliable gauge for quality of student. Evidence of the truth in that relational adage, reedist Brian Landrus came under the tutelage of a number of jazz luminaries over the course of his educational endeavors. Several of those able to join him on this debut recording include saxophonists George Garzone and Allan Chase, pianist Michael Cain, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Rakalam Bob Moses. Heavy company to be sure, but Landrus is well up to reflecting the stock his mentors obviously place in him. They in turn show due deference by readily following his lead. Colleagues Jason Palmer on trumpet and percussionist Tupac Mantilla complete the talent pool on which Landrus draws for the session.
Landrus mixes and matches the players into a number of aggregations ranging from quartet to septet in size. The album’s nine pieces range from the canonical postbop of Monk’s “Ask Me Now” as opener to the closing improvised meditation “Destination” replete with soothing flute and aqueous percussion in the form of rain stick and thumb piano. The overarching mien of the set recalls the sort of “spiritual” and modal-mannered records released by labels like Muse and Steeplechase in the Seventies. The result is a retro feel that doesn’t feel rote and Landrus’ choice in reeds also varies the playing field. His languid baritone stroll through the Monk tune with Cain, Lockwood and Moses supplying canny accompaniment contrasts keenly with the pianoless, horn-weighted counterpoint of “Beauty of Change”. Garzone and Chase stick tenor and alto, respectively, further placing the leader’s horns and writing in the forefront.
Moses and Lockwood make for particularly inspired choices as rhythm mates. Colleagues at the New England Conservatory along with Chase and Garzone, both men convey very elastic conceptions of time-keeping with the former often elongating his beats at odd intervals while the latter inserts angular pizzicato accents with a thick bulbous tone. By comparison, Cain plays pretty for the most part though he does drop the occasional surprise with a florid flourish or about face into near dissonance. Landrus takes to it all like a duck to water, digging deep into the expressiveness available via both baritone and bass clarinet. Lush horn harmonies of the title piece accentuate his work on the big horn in concert with Chase and Palmer while the solo piece “Interpretations” serves up his deep vocabulary on the licorice pipe sans any distractions. Landrus is a new name to me, but one I’ll certainly be keeping tabs on based on the promising work here.