In Shadow Song
, Howard Leshaw has created a finely balanced disc of originals. His saxophone sound, which is very pure and bit on the thin side, has a soft edge with the hint of vibrato at the end of a phrase; it's seductive, but not overtly so.
The swing of "Sayief" sits so easily in the groove that it can easily swallow you up and float you away. This is not something that can be learned, but must be felt. This applies not only to Leshaw, but the rest of the band: Jon Davis (piano), Paul Gabrielson (bass) and Dean Rickard (drums) who make up a quartet that is totally in sync. Neal Smith's Some Of My Favorite Songs Are...
(NASMusic, 2006) is another good example of finding that pocket.
After a light Brazilian gem in "Sirirat," we enter into the solid swing of "Jade." The delightful melody, although it has a standard structure, floats over the light drums and walking bass. Davis takes off and makes the most of it, playing neither too much nor too little. He knows when to take a breath and to leave some space; he is talking to us. Leshaw's answer is also precisely on the mark, making every note count, communicating straight from the heart.
"Flower" starts out as one big mystery, hinting at a ballad perhaps, but after about a minute it changes into a deep blues. Here, Leshaw sounds for all the world like Charles Lloyd in the way he returns to the same note many times and slides up to others in order to vocalize through his saxophone. Davis also makes a showing here, albeit on the more modern, say, McCoy Tyner side of the blues, contrasting with the leader's voice.
Many times the tune that ends up as the title tune for the album is the one nearest to the heart of the leader. "Shadow Song" also evokes Lloyd in its wonderful introductory invocation of the spirit, before turning into a lightly swinging Latin rhythm. The feeling of the tune is one of openness, the spreading of wings, and the joy of doing what one loves. Shadow Song
is a terrific album that deserves a wide hearing. Leshaw and his bandmates are deep musicians who happen to play in a language that is easily understood but which is hardly simplistic. Simply marvelous.
Personnel: Howard Leshaw: tenor saxophone; Jon Davis: piano; Paul Gabrielson: bass; Dean Rickard: drums