Brian Landrus: The Low End Theory
"There are a few guys you hear and you know that they're going to be a legend. He plays with all heart and he got to that level at a really young age where his technique was secondary to his expression. So I told him that night, and that was almost 10 years ago, that he was going to be in my band. And I'm sure that everybody hears that all the time and it's whatever, but now we've been playing together for years."
Felder has since provided an important sound addition to much of Landrus's music since. "When I was writing the music, I was hearing Nir. There's a lot of great guitar players that I've been fortunate to have worked with, but he was the voice I'd been hearing while writing this music. Also, the sound of baritone or bass clarinet with guitar almost creates a separate instrument. It's octaves and it gives a strength to the melody. It's grounded, but it also has an airy quality too. And with Nir, there's an edge to his sound, but it's not aggressive."
Traverse (Blue Land Records, 2010), in the context of Landrus's oeuvre, is the most familiar in terms of format. Stripped of the shifting personnel and the radical differences in styles, Traverse stands as a strong and very personal classic quartet record. Landrus explained that this was a deliberate move, done initially out of a (later revealed to be naive) concern, but also as an affirmation of his experience.
"Traverse came about because Mike and I had been talking about doing it. I had mentioned the idea about doing a straight-ahead quartet record, but we'll keep it fresh obviously. I wanted to put out a record with a classic format. That's our version of a string quartet. It's a staple. When I was writing that record, it just felt like the right thing to do. There was actually a point when I was going to have other horns on the record, but I just ended up not using them, because the music didn't need it. Every time I tried to do more stuff with the music, the music didn't need it.
"I had already done Capsule and all these people were telling me not to do it (which ended up being a life lesson) but at the time it scared the shit out of me. I knew I was going to release that record, but I wanted to do one that would establish me as a jazz player. I'm a jazz musician; I'm not just one of these musicians that only does funky shit. It was a preemptive strike against critics [laughs]"
One key ways that Landrus and Cain had kept the music fresh was the choice to do a few of the tracks as a duo, whereas they were initially written for quartet. "That was actually Mike's idea," said Landrus. "When we played them through as a quartet, it just didn't feel as good, but at Mike's suggestion, they just sounded perfect as a duet." Landrus and Cain were able to bring on another future long-standing collaborator in the for the Traverse session: legendary bassist Lonnie Plaxico. "I had actually first listened to him when I was 18 on the last couple [Art Blakey] Jazz Messenger records. When we were putting together the album, Mike and I were talking about guys for the record and I knew he knew Lonnie and I just threw his name out there. We talked to him and he was totally into it and from then on, it's my first call guy. Anything he can do, he's going to be on.
"He brings a lot of wisdom from really growing up in the mentoring world, which almost doesn't exist anymore, and in the legendary mentor band. When you play with him, he brings this organic energy that you can only really get from somebody like him. Obviously, tone is a really big thing with me and his tone is huge! He's an amazing person, too; he's a sweetheart. I feel really fortunate to play with all these guys."
The record is also graced by the presence of drum legend Billy Hart. "Billy is amazing. His touch is so unique and it was important to have him on that record. It's funny, I could have said that I wouldn't have him on the a funk record, but I'd heard him on Herbie Hancock's 'Fat Albert Rotunda' a couple years ago and Billy is absolutely smokin' on these funky-ass grooves! He actually played our CD release for Mirage and killed it. But if I'm doing a session with Billy, I want it to swing."