On the verge of what might be a definite breakthrough, tenor saxophonist Don Braden has been at the top of the list among better informed jazz followers, but he has just skirted below the radar of the average consumer. A superb trio of Criss Cross sides in the mid '90s led to a contract with RCA Records which unfortunately didn't deliver the bang for the buck that one would have hoped for. Now he's with another small independent label and the publicity machine is surely on the small side once again, but Braden has stepped up recently with some of his best work, of which The New Hang is easily one of his finest to date.
In an update of the tenor-organ combo, Braden brings on board trombonist Conrad Herwig, organist Kyle Koehler, and drummer Cecil Brooks III. Don't expect a sleepy jam session just by a perusal of the instruments on hand, though; these guys wail, and the emphasis is definitely on shuffles and backbeat numbers that ignite the solos of Braden and Herwig. As for Koehler, he's definitely more influenced by Larry Young than by Jimmy Smith and his own style is a tasteful mix of standard elements with his own forward-thinking sense of improvisation.
A number made popular by Chaka Khan in the '80s and first recast by Eric Alexander a few years back, "Through the Fire" sheds light on Braden's skills for adapting present-day pop numbers for jazz usage, much like what he's done in the past for his Contemporary Standards Ensemble. "Without a Song" moves at a healthy clip, with the lead horns wasting no time in getting their messages delivered. As a balladeer, Braden is at his most sublime in a duo performance with Koehler on "When I Fall In Love," the tune's extended coda yielding some technically dazzling tenor displays.
The rest of the program contains a variety of Braden originalsincluding an update of "Wish List"which explore new horizons within the funky outlook of this very hip ensemble. If there's but one complaint it might be that drummer Cecil Brooks III tends to be on the busy side, yet his bristling approach does tend to spur on the soloists. In the final analysis, Braden's "new hang" is one that you will definitely want to revisit often, as it holds many rewards.
Personnel: Don Braden: tenor sax; Conrad Herwig: trombone; Kyle Koehler: organ; Cecil Brooks III: drums.