Young Austin, Texas based saxophonist Elias Haslanger has received a good deal of praise since his arrival on the jazz scene. Haslanger’s sure fire attack coupled with references to Trane, Webster and Rollins serves up a recipe for acute jazz literacy while displaying characteristics that indicates maturity and individualism. Haslanger utilizes the services of the estimable pianist-educator Ellis Marsalis on two tracks and is backed by a good solid band throughout. The attitude conveyed on “Kicks Are For Kids” rekindles memories of “early 1960’s” Jazz Messenger or perhaps Miles Davis’ Quintet, which suggests tight, peerless ensemble work.
The opener and title track “Kicks Are For Kids” contains a catchy bright melody line and blends elements of funk and swing. This is an enticing and toe-tapping tune, which features some delicate and bouncy phrasing from pianist Fredrick Sanders. Trumpeter Tito Carrillo adds a nice touch with a huge bright tone and expressive soloing. “Kicks Are For Kids” develops into a mid-tempo swing and post-bop affair providing ample space for the soloists. The attractive melody is restated to enhance the sense of structure and compositional form. Haslanger’s “Eugene and Marie” features the elegant touch of pianist Ellis Marsalis who churns out a sweet ballad while Haslanger’s fluent yet moody tenor sax phrasings draws upon influences from the masters, namely Ben Webster and Sonny Rollins. Here, Haslanger’s full-bodied tone and eloquent, pensive articulations are a testament to his acute technical skills and maturation. His improvisational skills also warrant honorable mention. ! Haslanger’s fiery brand of tenor sax also incorporates lush romanticism, penetrating vibrato and acute timing are staples of his personalized and identifiable sound. It’s not all about technique as is the case with many of the so-called post-bop young lions who get substantial monetary backing by the big record companies. Haslanger’s music, while not revolutionary or groundbreaking excels in strong compositional material, a signature style saxophone sound and a sophisticated, focused sense of evolvement among the band. Haslanger dabbles with “free-improv” with the aptly titled “Free For Three”. Here, Haslanger, bassist Edwin Livingston and drummer J.J. Johnson stretch out and convey an abundant array of ideas, tones and shifting tempos. Haslanger picks up the soprano sax towards the end while bassist Livingston expands upon his walking bass lines taking a straight-up solo. J.J. Johnson’s drumming is solid and pervasive. He rarely mixes it up from a soloist’s perspectiv! e but lays down a good foundation throughout this recording.
“Kicks Are For Kids” should be counted among the top jazz releases of 1998. Haslanger has a lot to offer and displays core qualities that draw upon past influences yet establishes his identity as a cutting edge stylist with a firm stake in the ground. Highly Recommended.
Elias Haslanger; tenor and soprano sax: Fredrick Sanders; piano: Edwin Livingston; bass: J.J. Johnson; drums: Tito Carrillo; trumpet (tracks 1,2,3,5,6 and 10): Ellis Marsalis; piano (tracks 4 and 9)