Benjamin Drazen: Inner Flights (2011)
Alto saxophonist Benjamin Drazen has been plying his trade around Manhattan's network of small jazz barsplaces like 55 Bar, Smalls, and The Garagefor over a decade. At long last, the New York native unveils his debut outing, Inner Flights. In a program of mostly original music, Drazen consistently delivers strong post-John Coltrane fire, with a sound that lies somewhere between Jackie McLean and Gary Bartz. Paired with Drazen, his band is a juggernaut, everyone possessed of the frenetic, driving pulse destined to keep this music aloft.
Opening with an up-tempo blues, "Mr. Twilight," the melody skates through modal twists, accented by pianist Jon Davis' strong, McCoy Tyner-ish left hand. Drazen's opening, guns-a-blazing drive is met with the full support of the trio behind him. A Thelonious Monk tribute follows with "Monkish," a nod to the legendary pianist's more comedic side, à la "Raised Four." True to the title, Davis begins this track with a jagged piano intro.
The album's apex arrives in the middle of the program, with the title track. Here, Drazen switches to soprano, unleashing a dazzling Coltrane-esque solo. The energy is matched again on Davis's arrangement of the rarely-heard Kurt Weill standard "This Is New."
Drazen closes the set with the ballad show tune "Polkadots and Moonbeams," highlighting his affinity for Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. The slower pace can be a trap for less experienced soloists, but for Drazen it's an incentive to be lyrical and swinging at the same time. A relaxed, Red Garland-style solo from Davis adds to the Adderley homage.
On Inner Flights, Drazen and his swinging cohorts deliver on all fronts. It's a head-turning debut from a talented and extremely capable new voice.
Track Listing: Mr. Twilight; Monkish; Prayer For Brothers Gone; Jazz Heaven; Inner Flights; Neeney's Waltz; This Is New; Kickin' Up Dirt; Polka Dots And Moonbeams.
Personnel: Benjamin Drazen: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jon Davis: piano; Carlo De Rosa: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.