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Steve Khan: Backlog

James Nadal By

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In what could best be described as an enduring exploration, Steve Khan has undertaken the role of expanding and redefining the role of the guitar in the hybrid genre of Latin Jazz. Backlog continues with the concept established as far back as 2005 on The Green Field (Tone Center), in the transformation of straight-ahead jazz compositions into unique Khan improvisations drawing deeply from the Afro-Cuban tradition.

The percussion duo of Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende have been an essential part of his sound since 2007, and bassist Ruben Rodriguez complements the ensemble with a solid tumbao foundation. Drummer Mark Walker rounds out the rhythm section, a dynamic propulsion machine which allows Khan to perform his magic.

The defining clave opens Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross," Rodriguez's baby bass establishing the band's melodic direction, Khan weaving his phrases around the percussive layers. "Concepticus In C," by Greg Osby, is reworked in a classic cha-cha-cha mode and demonstrates Khan's affinity for Caribbean dance music. As is customary in Khan's recordings, Ornette Coleman is a major influence and contributor, and his "Latin Genetics" is given a Puerto Rican plena treatment, featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet, playing with a genuine street carnival approach.

It's no secret that the prolific composer Sammy Cahn was Khan's father, and "Our Town," is a personal tribute, complete with lush orchestration courtesy of Rob Mounsey, who does a commendable job on the keyboards. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was another musician who delved into the Afro-Cuban rhythms, and Khan covers him on two tunes, "Head Start," with Mike Mainieri on vibes, and "Rojo," where Khan switches to a steel-string acoustic for a more relaxed montuno voicing.

Coleman is revisited again on "Invisible," bringing Bob Mintzer in on tenor sax to lay out an esoteric blues, against the exotic backdrop. Khan melodically depicts a floating sensation in "Emily," with the understated rhythm serving as a buoyant cloud for his musings. The ancestral Oriza rhythms are utilized on "Go Home," plucked from Stevie Wonder's 1985 release In Square Circle. The song is driven by Quiñones' deft work with the intricate double bell pattern, and Khan goes into soul/funk territory with high energy and volume. The Brazilian tinge, courtesy of vocalist Tatiana Parra, appears on the remake of "Catta," by Andrew Hill. This song closes the set with the unmistakable sense of romance which is so dominant in Latin music, though sometimes forgotten by the dominant rhythmic undulation.

With Backlog, Khan rounds out the mesmerizing trilogy encompassing Parting Shot (2011) and Subtext (2014), which were recorded under the pressure of a mysterious medical affliction. Khan's music continues to evolve and his quest to take the guitar into an uncharted trajectory has bestowed him with a singular style. No one plays or sounds like Steve Khan, his clever interpretations of jazz compositions shaken up with Afro-Caribbean rhythms are always on the cusp. He is an inquisitive jazz musician, mastering the evasive art of reinvention and improvisation on his own terms, in his own time.

Track Listing: Criss Cross; Conceptious In C; Latin Genetics; Our Town; Head Start; Rojo; Invisible; Emily; Go Home; Catta.

Personnel: Steve Khan: guitar; Rubén Rodriguez: baby bass, electric bass; Mark Walker: drums; Marx Quiñones: timbales, bongo, percussion; Bobby Allende: conga, bongo; Randy Brecker: trumpet (3); Bob Mintzer: tenor sax (7); Mike Mainieri: vibes (5); Rob Mounsey: keyboards (2, 6, 7, 9) orchestrations; Tatiana Parra: voice (10).

Title: Backlog | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ESC Records


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