The great thing about the ECM label is that it never deletes a title, which means that new fans of legacy artists like pianist Keith Jarrett can go back and explore their artistic development. Sadly that's rarely possible with most labels, and it's becoming even more challenging when an artist's career spans several, as is the case with guitarist Steve Khan.
The fact that the lion's share of Khan's discography as a leader is out of print is unfortunate. His evolution from '70s fusioneer to a less-is-more player with his Afro-Cuban-informed Eyewitness band in the '80s and an astute interpreter of standards in the '90s is a trip worth taking. And with the recent release of The Green Field, his first album as a leader in nine years, now's a great time to go back and hear just how he got here.
The good news is that ESC records has reissued Got My Mental, originally released on Evidence in 1996. It's a particularly astute choice which features the same core rhythm section as The Green Field: bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It's a strong argument for why Khan, nearly a decade later, chose the same trio for his new record. They haven't played a single live date togetherin fact, they've only done rehearsals and these two sessionsbut you'd never know it. This flexible trio is as comfortable with visceral groove as free-flowing exchanges.
Got My Mental finds Khan at his most straight-ahead, although this is not a programme of strictly changes-based material. The first two tracks, Ornette Coleman's "R.P.D.D." and Wayne Shorter's "Paraphernalia," are thematic sketches that provide the trioor, in the case of the latter, a percussion-enhanced sextetopportunity for liberal interplay, though never without a firm sense of swing. Khan's own title track fits right into this freer context, a blues with a bridge that ultimately opens up wide and deep.
A mature artist will take whatever time is necessary to let the music develop. Khan has demonstrated that unhurried sensibility since the watershed Eyewitness (Antilles, 1981). On Got My Mental, he demonstrates the selfless approach of someone with nothing to prove. Whether it's on the relaxed, percussion-heavy groove of Jarrett's "Common Mama" and Eddie Harris' soulful "Sham Time," or the spaciously ambiguous balladry of (his father) Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen's "The Last Dance," Khan seamlessly integrates fluid lines and distinctive chord voicings. Yet while he's got chops to burn, Khan avoids pyrotechnics and his maintains his allegiance to song, making Got My Mental compelling and meaningful.
Khan deserves to be considered in the same breath as more acclaimed guitarists like Metheny, Scofield, Abercrombie and Frisell. Almost a decade passed between Got My Mental and The Green Field, but he continues to hone a personal sound and approach.
Personnel: Steve Khan: guitar; John Patitucci: acoustic bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Don Alias: timbales
(3,6), shekere (2); Bobby Allende: congas and guiro (2,3,6); Marc Quinones: timbales (2); Café:
percussion, voice (7).