How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Alto Saxophonist Kenny Shanker is proof that an artist's direction isn't always reflected in their tonal personality. Shanker possesses a sleek-and-sweet tone that has served him well on dates with big name ghost band, like the Tommy Dorsey
, but his own music operates outside of the "contemporary jazz" orbit.
Shanker occasionally hints at the simpler side of jazz, with an easily appealing, less-is-more melody ("Home Sweet Home") or a heart-wrenching ballad ("Sarah") that showcases his tender side, but he also puts his silky saxophone to good use in more striking fashion. He throws caution to the wind on the urgent "Fifth And Berry," which showcases a bevy of bravura solos from various band members, turns up the heat during his solo on "Quirk," and brings a sense of elation to "E.J."
While Shanker didn't invite any horn players to join him here, guitarist Lage Lund
occasionally serves as his front line partner. Both men complement each other when working in tandem, but Lund's greater contributions come with his solos. He pushes at the boundaries of Shanker's songs in pleasurable ways and brings a thoroughly modern slant to this music. Pianist and label mate Art Hirahara
's "Somewhere" is a sparkling example of measured contemplation and musicality, and completely captures the emotional essence of "Sarah."
It took Shanker eight post-college years to step out and record this debut, and the album aged on the shelves for another two-plus years, but it was worth the wait. Steppin' Up signals the arrival of another unique and promising saxophone personality in the ever-impressive Posi-Tone stable.
Track Listing: Winter Rain; Fifth And Berry; Rhapsody; Quirk; E.J.; Sarah; Prowl; Saints; Home Sweet Home; Somewhere.
Personnel: Kenny Shanker: alto saxophone; Lage Lund: guitar; Art Hirahara: piano; Yoshi Waki: bass; Mike Eckroth: piano (4, 6, 10); Brian Fishler: drums.