Woodwind multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless, best known for his work with the genre-bending group Oregon, and pianist Art Lande have a shared history that dates back over thirty years. Surprisingly, however, they have recorded together relatively infrequently, notably on McCandless' albums All the Mornings Bring ('79) and Heresay ('88), as well as the Lande/McCandless album with vibraphonist David Samuels, Skylight ('82). But while their recorded collaborations have been few and far between, they have always been worth waiting for, albums to savour slowly as their many layers are gradually revealed. Shapeshifter teams them together for the first time in over fifteen years, and the result is familiar, yet yields some surprises.
For one, McCandless is featured on a couple of tracks on tenor saxophone, an instrument that may have been his first, but receives its recording debut here. McCandless claims, "It has a different voice and I find I sound like a different Paul McCandless," but the truth is that he has such a distinctive musical personality that he is instantly recognizable, regardless of the horn. Still, it broadens the palette into a richer, deeper range, something that McCandless, who usually focuses on higher-registered instruments like English horn, soprano sax and oboe, has often avoided, with the exception of bass clarinet that is featured on the quirky title track.
The other surprise is that this is the most straight-ahead session that McCandless has ever released under his own name. That's not to say this is a mainstream affairthere's nary a standard to be foundbut with a more traditional rhythm section including bassist Peter Barshay and drummer Alan Hall, the sonorities are more common. Still, with a series of compositions mainly from Lande, with the exception of three short free improvisations, one composition by Khabu Doug Young and the Oregon-esque closing track by McCandless himself, this is contemporary jazz with its own set of edges and curves.
McCandless and Lande are interesting foils. McCandless' improvisations, while demonstrating some roots in the jazz tradition, are more informed by broader sources, whereas Lande comes at things from the other direction with a strong sense of tradition that is coloured at times by wider concerns. Lande, in fact, recorded a solo album of Thelonious Monk material a few years back, and while he is more informed by and advances the work of Bill Evans, some of Monk's more angular sensibility seeps into his playing from time to time.
The material ranges from the complex, long-form "Majestorum Enborum" where, from the first notes, McCandless' voice is cleardeeply lyrical and consummately passionateto the darker 7/4 ostinato of "Rigamarole," where Lande peppers the snake-like theme while showing some hidden gospel roots. Hall favours a dark and heavy ride cymbal, giving the recording a certain ECM-ish vibe.
McCandless recordings are all too few and far between, and usually represent specific short-term projects, but on the strength of Shapeshifter one is left hoping that this will be more than a one-time affair.
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Personnel: Paul McCandless (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, English horn, oboe), Art Lande (piano), Peter Barshay (bass), Alan Hall (drums)