It's a feat for a musician to integrate seamlessly into playing within a well-known musical group that is accustomed to playing on its own. This is the tale of saxophonist Russ Nolan, whose release with pianist Kenny Werner's trio, With You In Mind, is a dream come true.
All the compositions on the recording were written by Nolan, except for John Coltrane's "Naima," which the saxophonist arranged.
The texture of the music weaves threads of clear direction and touch. Contrasting Nolan's sax with Werner's piano presents a smoothness of line complementing a sharpness of attack. Even though at times ("Diatonicus"), the rhythm trims up how Nolan approaches the notes, it seems to be Nolan's purpose to portray a fluid musical journey through the landscape that the trio structures, with Werner having been given substantial liberties to sculpt his own space. For, after all, Werner is for Nolan an inspirational hinge.
Nolan's tone on tenor stays in the mid-range and commands statements of phrases that he often reaches after pushing leapfrogged arpeggios up and down the horn. His music is cleanly shaped and directly delivered. There is nothing that is particularly complex about it. He uses the soprano, on "Disheveled Waltz," to draw lyrical perspectives on a wholly melancholy surface as the piano backs him in a quiet unobtrusive mode; he uses the tenor in the same way on the title track.
On "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors," which is a distinctly metaphorical piece, the entire group is engaged in keeping up the appearance of motion. Werner and Nolan pursue a synchronous line that clips along like the train the music is imitating. The bass and drums click away at the musical mileage. And in a solo surge, Werner climbs all over the keyboard to end in minimal treble chord gestures that open out into a drum resolution and thematic saxophone reprise to close in the hush of the sound effects of a train moving into the distance.
This recording seems to be just as much a forum for Werner to display his improvisational fortitude as it is for Nolan to reveal his compositional acuity. The honestly and beautifully rendered music on With You In Mind is to enjoy.
Personnel: Russ Nolan: tenor and soprano saxes; Kenny Werner: piano; Johannes Weidenmueller: bass; Ari Hoenig: drums.