Benjamin Drazen Inner Flights:
Soprano and alto sax specialist Benjamin Drazen is a relative newcomer, and Inner Flights released earlier this week on Posi-Tone Records marks his first foray as a leader on an album. That doesn’t mean he sounds “green,” though. Now here’s where I might say which famous altoist Drezen sounds like, but I’m kind of reluctant to do so because he sounds more like a “little bit of this and a little bit of that.” I will say that he’s more of an old school kind of player who knows how and when to bend a note to squeeze the most soul juice out of it and though he can fly up and down the scales like a real bebopper, he’s more apt to play for the feel than to show off.
For his debut, Drazen went with the tried-and-true quartet format, ably backed up by Jon Davis on piano, Carlo De Rosa on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. In this set of nine songs, Drazen wrote seven of them, and they reveal a real range in his composing: going from the post-bop cooker “Mr. Twilight” to the floating ballad “Prayer For Brothers Gone,” or the urbane “Kickin’ Up Dirt.” But I might like his exercise on making up his own Thelonious Monk tune the best. “Monkish” has all the impishness of a Monk composition with an unmistakable blues and bop-based foundation. Inner Flights gets Benjamin Drazen’s solo career off the ground with a smooth takeoff.
Brian Landrus Quartet Traverse: Baritone sax players tend to get the short shrift in recognition compared to practitioners of the “lighter” saxophones. It’s big, burly sound has more edge in its tone that might be a little gruff to some but that didn’t stop Gerry Mulligan from making some jazz history with it. Luckily, though, there’s still players out there blowing the big horn with all the swing and passion of their forbears. One of those cats is Brian Landrus.
Landrus put out his first record just last year. Forward was covered here and that record was an octet. ForTraverse, released March 1, Landrus whittles it down to a quartet, retaining Michael Cain on piano and adding the top-rate Lonnie Plaxico and Billy Hart on bass and drums, respectively. Landrus wrote, or cowrote with Cain, all of the eight songs except for “Body And Soul.” In this lighter arrangement, we get to hear more of Landrus (who also doubles on bass clarinet) and here we discover how much of a tenor player he sounds like; his a cappella piece “Soul And Body” followed by a straight rendition of “Body And Soul” a more feathery sound in his baritone that you don’t hear often, and it’s very enjoyable to hear. “Gnosis,” “Lone,” and “Lydian 4″ are also highlights, but there’s no real filler on this record. Traverse is another chapter in the fast-developing career of Brian Landrus. And his third record Capsule is due out in July. Watch out for this guy.