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Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope | Mirage

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by Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope

Composer Brian Landrus, Master of Low Reeds, Creates Chamber Jazz Masterpiece with Mirage, a Shimmering Album with his Quintet Kaleidoscope and String Quartet.
Genre: Jazz: Mainstream Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Arrival
5:22 album only
2. Sammy
5:24 album only
3. Don't Close Your Eyes
5:45 album only
4. A New Day
1:44 album only
5. The Thousands
5:45 album only
6. Someday
5:07 album only
7. Reach
1:36 album only
8. Mirage
7:58 album only
9. I've Been Told
5:50 album only
10. Three Words
5:27 album only
11. Jade
6:12 album only
12. Kismet
3:03 album only


Album Notes
Composer Brian Landrus, Master of Low Reeds, Creates Chamber Jazz Masterpiece with Mirage, a Shimmering Album with his Quintet Kaleidoscope and String Quartet

Featuring Guitarist Nir Felder, Bassist Lonnie Plaxico, Drummer Rudy Royston, Pianist/Keyboardist Frank Carlberg, Violinists Mark Feldman, Joyce Hamman, Violist Judith Insell, & Cellist Jody Redhage.

Conducted by Grammy Award-nominated Ryan Truesdell

“Mr. Landrus, who is 34, stands out here for the poplike angle of his music... this album forgoes highbrow connotation in favor of a vibrant melodic accessibility ...the tenderness in his playing feels as warm and accessible as his writing.” — Nate Chinen, New York Times

“Music that inspires with an epic nature. Melodies crafted with the precision and beauty of stained glass. Harmonies that invite the listener to just sink into them. One of those albums that, once listened to, gives the sense of having travelled very far distances from your seat by the stereo.” – Dave Sumner, Emusic

"A baritone saxophonist of convincing authority, Brian Landrus has a new album, “Mirage” (BlueLand), that features his compositions for a mixed cohort of jazz quintet and strings." - Nate Chinen, New York Times

“There are still players out there blowing the big horn with all the swing and passion of their forbears. One of those cats is Brian Landrus.... Resplendent with beautiful melodies, a small but smartly used string section and Landrus’ own unique appealing approach to the low reeds, this one’s both an artistic triumph and real listening pleasure” - S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Reviews

Over the past decade Brian Landrus has emerged as the most powerful new voice on the baritone saxophone with a series of critically hailed albums exploring an array of grooves, from straight-ahead swing to slinky R&B. But none of his previous releases anticipated the ambitious scope and stunning beauty of Mirage, a singular masterpiece integrating his Kaleidoscope quintet with a string quartet led by violin maestro Mark Feldman. Melodically charged and harmonically venturesome, Landrus’ music is marked by sumptuous textures, cascading lines and captivating movement. Mirage is slated for release on June 25, 2013 on BlueLand Records.

Landrus, who’s recently been touring with Esperanza Spalding, credits Bob Brookmeyer with inspiring him to tackle writing for jazz ensemble and strings. After studying at New England Conservatory with the legendary trombonist/arranger, he forged a close friendship with his former mentor. Upon Brookmeyer’s death in 2011, Landrus went back and explored some of his orchestral writing, fueling his determination to capture the music that had been slowly coalescing in his mind.

“I always wanted to do something with strings,” Landrus says. “After Bob passed I listened to a lot of his music, like a session he did with the Metropole Orchestra. I was in a space where a lot of the music I was developing had a common thread. I wanted to play things where the strings are crucial, where my group and the strings are completely interconnected.”

Landrus describes his old NEC friend Ryan Truesdell as an indispensable collaborator both in the project’s conception and the music’s realization in the studio. Creative confidantes ever since they bonded while nervously awaiting their NEC auditions, they both thrived under Brookmeyer’s thoughtful guidance. As Landrus started planning the Mirage recording sessions he realized that performing the music as a full ensemble, rather than relying on tracking and overdubs, required a savvy conductor to keep the music flowing, particularly since he often switches instruments mid-tune.

“I gave Ryan the music the month before and he studied the hell out of it,” says Landrus, who’s been voted a DownBeat Baritone Sax Rising Star the past three years. “He took over as conductor in the studio and on a lot of the tunes he handled all the cuing. I trusted him to take the energy to the next level. I told him, you’ll have to conduct it how you think, how it feels, and he made it happen.”

The album opens with an anticipation-building drone introducing “Arrival,” a soaring, irrepressibly buoyant anthem that sets the template for Landrus’ organic integration of the quintet and strings. While not created as a suite, Mirage does feel like a vast canvas painted with the same shimmering watercolor palette. Landrus uses the strings to open “A New Day,” which almost feels like a programmatic evocation of a gentle summer dawn, but when Lonnie Plaxico’s implacably propulsive bass moves to the foreground the vibe shifts from lulling to wide-eyed expectation.

Plaxico anchored Landrus’ 2009 straight-ahead session Traverse, and Landrus knew he wanted him in the mix for Mirage. “Lonnie’s sound is massive, and his rhythmic subdivision is very wide - he fills everything out.” While he occasionally joins the Plaxico at the bottom with rumbling contra alto clarinet lines (particularly on the brief and poignant “Reach”), Landrus spends most of his time on bari, and no player today possesses a more beautiful and pliant tone on the burly horn.

Many of Landrus’ lines seem to have been conceived with Nir Felder in mind, and the contrast between Landrus’ thick and breathy bari and Felder’s sleek, quicksilver guitar is one of the album’s reoccurring pleasures. On the title track, which fully reveals Landrus’ gift for writing bright singing melodies, they both take dancing solos that seem to leap into space. Composing the music “that’s what I heard, Nir’s incredible sound,” Landrus says. “And I love the sound of bass clarinet and bari blending and playing melodies with his guitar. It’s a really colorful and unique sound, like its own instrument.”

Landrus is equally comfortable getting down and earthly, like on “Jade,” a tune with a slinky backbeat redolent of late night revelry. He closes the album with “Kismet,” a solo bass saxophone soliloquy that showcases his incredible tone and musicianship.

In many ways the band is built from the groove up, starting with drummer extraordinaire Rudy Royston, who’s played on both previous Kaleidoscope albums. A highly sought after player whose recent credits include albums with Bill Frisell, J.D. Allen, Ben Allison, Ron Miles, and his sister-in-law Tia Fuller, Royston “is brilliant and incredibly versatile,” Landrus says. “He can swing his ass off, and has the ability to feel out any tune and make it sound natural.”

Like with Truesdell, Landrus’ relationship with Frank Carlberg, who was also tight with Brookmeyer, dates back to his years at NEC, though the pianist was his professor rather than a fellow student. Landrus made a point of studying with him, and before long he was playing in Carlberg’s big band. “I learned a lot from him, and we’ve been playing together for years,” Landrus says. “He has a freedom to his playing and composing that’s a drastic thing. Some of his music contains the most intense builds I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The other key figure in the recording was violinist Mark Feldman, who provided essential assistance to Landrus in shaping the string arrangements. “I’d call him up and say is this possible? I’d send him music and ask will this work?” Landrus says. Feldman also recruited string players adept at jazz rhythms, like cellist Jody Hammann, who has toured with Esperanza Spalding for several years. “All of the string players got together as a group and made it happen,” Landrus says. “Jody’s a phenomenal musician with a gorgeous sound, and she hooked me up with Esperanza,” with whom Landrus spent much of the past year on the road.

Music this beautiful and fresh might seem like an illusion, but Mirage is the work of an oversized talent who’s just getting started.



to write a review

DooBeeDooBeeDoo NY

Mirage by Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope…the music draws from a number of influences
Review by Matt Cole (9/17/2013 published here: http://www.doobeedoobeedoo.info/?p=18750)
Mirage is the 5th CD as a leader from composer/low reedsman Brian Landrus. In addition to Kaleidoscope, which consists of Nir Felder on guitar, Frank Carlberg on Rhodes and piano, Lonnie Plaxico on acoustic and electric bass, and Rudy Royston on drums; Landrus added a string section for this album, consisting of Mark Feldman and Joyce Hammann on violin, Judith Insell on viola, and Jody Redhage on cello, with Ryan Truesdell conducting.

Overall, the music draws from a number of influences, but the main feel is that of a chill funky jazz with gentle and vibrant energy. The strings are used quite effectively, taking the lead at times, adding shimmering layers of sound at others, and occasionally even bringing a late Romantic/Impressionistic feel to the proceedings. Landrus as leader and arranger does a fine job of weaving the quartet in with his own quintet’s melodic lines, musical conversations, and rhythms; the two blend seamlessly to become one seamless unit.

The album opens with “Arrival,” a good choice for a leadoff track. It starts with a bass pedal, with overtones, contrasted with rapid fire string notes, giving a nice mix of dreamy and agitated. As the drums and bass clarinet join the mix, the music takes on a minor feel while drummer Royston creates an odd angular rhythm feel. This segues into a jazzy, proggy, upbeat section with Felder taking the lead on guitar. This part made me think of music by (mostly) Swiss bands No Reduce and the Nils Wolgram Septet, reviewed previously on DooBeeDooBeeDoo. “Arrival” provides a good example of what a group effort this album is, with the various instruments building well together, sharing the lead, and interlocking tightly regardless of which role they are playing or space they are filling.

Track 2, “Sammy,” starts with Landrus’ bass clarinet having a slow, sad conversation with Redhage’s cello, providing an example of how Landrus does a good job at distributing leads between different combinations of instruments, which enhances his sound palette and keeps everyone involved. The piece builds to a head that has hints of a Gypsy feel, with the melody passed among the various instruments in a multi-way call and response. The musical conversation gets more frantic and elaborate, before morphing into a jazzier section, with descending lines and arpeggios. Through it all, the rhythm section of Royston and Plaxico demonstrate a talent for propelling things along energetically without being overly obtrusive, a trait which they maintain for the whole album.

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” comes next, and is the first track on the CD to have an almost Motown-with-strings feel to it, the other one being “Three Words.” In contrast with the latter, which is a fairly straightforward piece which leans toward contemporary jazz (but feels less sterile than a fair amount of the music of that name), “Eyes” has a bit more hybrid feel—with its understated ’70s strings combining with some lyrical jazz. At one point Landrus lays down a bari solo with serious oomph and the band demonstrates what bland smooth jazz would sound like if it actually had some real depth, daring and complexity; the music is gentle and passionate at the same time.

“A New Day” is the first track with less than the full band. It’s a short piece for the string quartet and sounds most of all like something out of the mid- to late Romantic era, with a dash of Impressionism. The other two such pieces (“Reach” and “Kismet”) are short low reed solo pieces which showcase Landrus’ excellent musicianship and tone; the former is played on the bass clarinet and consists of a series of arpeggios which become more melodic and have more motion over time, with each phrase being a little more detailed. “Kismet” is a showcase for the wonderful bass saxophone, starting with an atmosphere of jazzy noir, but a little more open and upbeat then your usual Sam Spade story. As the song progresses, the lines grow more bluesy and soulful, and there’s even a hint of baroque in them.

“The Thousands,” after “A New Day,” starts by showcasing bassist Plaxico, who mixes some rich sustained notes with some rapid fire runs, making excellent use of space as well. When the band comes in, the sound made me think of hard bop in odd meter, first in unison, then with harmonies and interesting comping underneath. Landrus then plays a bari solo replete with smooth runs and interesting phrases as the rest of the band provides an excellent example of its ability to slowly and patiently build and develop, taking the accompaniment from spare to intense. When the head returns, the strings provide a halo of shimmering enhancement.

Next up, “Someday” starts with another combination of instruments, with Carlberg’s piano playing a line with hints of Irish music along with the violins; and also features a nimble bass clarinet solo in which Landrus has a particularly lovely tone—there are few sounds as rich and beautiful as that made by a bass clarinet in the hands of a skilled player.

After the aforementioned “Reach” comes the title track, “Mirage.” The string quartet begins, with a similar feel to their earlier showcase piece, but this time the rest of the band comes in, playing gentle slow jazz with a sad minor melody in the bari and some high layers from the strings. “Mirage” also highlights guitarist Felder, who plays an undistorted intricate solo over a subtly funky melodic bass. This piece also provides another example of how Landrus spreads things around, as the strings come back into the lead at the end, but this time with the rhythm section underneath, with the bari taking over right at the end. Never do these trades and transitions sound awkward; the band is extremely tight.

“I’ve Been Told” provides a nice surprise—it starts with an angular, out-sounding solo guitar, when the band comes in, reveals itself to be a part of a reggae beat. Landrus shares the lead with the strings on this one, and plays a soulful and busy bass clarinet solo.

The aforementioned “Three Words” is next, and after that comes “Jade,” with a strong, almost wistful melody over a funky popping bass. In this piece, we are treated to a violin solo (I’m guessing by Feldman) with interesting lines played with technical proficiency and a rich tone. Then comes “Kismet,” a strong solo denouement to a richly-layered album.

I found Mirage to be an enjoyable CD. While it certainly wasn’t as out or deliciously dissonant as some of the other CD’s and shows I’ve reviewed for DooBeeDooBeeDoo, it’s a creative, well-executed effort which relies on subtlety, tight playing, well-written and arranged songs leading to creative improvisations, and thoughtful interaction between the musicians to make its impact. Landrus does a fine job melding his quintet with the string quartet and spreading the load among his talented musicians, and it makes for an album well worth checking out.