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Andrew Janak: Borrowed Time

Troy Dostert By

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Although Lincoln, Nebraska isn't yet ready to announce itself as a bona fide jazz mecca, it is home base for saxophonist Andrew Janak, who recently returned to his alma mater the University of Nebraska to pursue a doctoral degree in music after spending some time honing his craft in Chicago. Borrowed Time is his debut record with his group Wind Armada, a septet with which he performed a good deal while in Chicago via weekly gigs at Phyllis' Musical Inn in Wicker Park. On an enjoyable album comprised solely of originals, Janak has ample opportunity to showcase his budding chops as a composer, revealing a strong ear for the harmonic possibilities available to a medium-sized ensemble.

While Janak and his bandmates are capable, sensitive soloists, this is not a group that seeks to bowl over the listener with stunning technique or scorching solo statements. The music itself generally stays in a relaxed, medium-tempo post-bop vein, with the emphasis clearly on the compositions themselves. And that's a sensible strategy, since Janak has real promise as an arranger, making especially wise use of the three-horn lineup he's got here, with Jesse McBee on trumpet/flugelhorn and Adam Thornburg on trombone to complement Janak, who plays both alto and tenor sax. The album's opener, "Westbrook After Dark," is a perfect example of Janak's creativity, with an engaging guitar ostinato part supporting the horns' graceful dance in 7/4 meter. The following track, "Impaired Judgement," offers more excellent ensemble writing for the horns, this time with Carl Kennedy's Fender Rhodes-style keyboard giving the track a slightly funky edge. Janak's compositions are warm and inviting, with a hint of melancholy: the mix of emotions on the fittingly-titled ballad "Happy Mourning" encapsulates Janak's approach nicely, with his yearning tenor solo offering some buoyancy to offset the track's downcast character.

Admittedly, while Janak is definitely developing a distinctive voice as a composer, there is a sameness to the seven tracks that tends to blur them together. A bit more variety in tempo and style wouldn't hurt; nor would having a chance for Janak's colleagues to stretch out more, as the overall feel of restraint on the record sometimes gives the impression that everyone's holding something back. Along these lines, it's refreshing to hear the guys turn it loose during the last half of the album's closer, "Expect the Unexpected," where a more assertive groove catalyzes some spirited soloing from Thornburg and Janak while sacrificing none of the band's harmonically rich ensemble parts. It's a fine way to finish a record that highlights the strong potential of a thoughtful and ambitious saxophonist and composer.

Track Listing: Track 1: Westbrook After Dark; Track 2: Impaired Judgement; Track 3: One Day Off the Groove; Track 4: Happy Mourning; Track 5: B.O.T.; Track 6: Happy Birthday, Phyllis'; Track 7: Expect the Unexpected

Personnel: Andrew Janak, alto and tenor saxophones/compositions; Jesse McBee, trumpet; Adam Thornburg, trombone; Carl Kennedy, keyboard; Robin Fey, guitar; Jackson Kidder, bass; Jon Wenzel, drums

Title: Borrowed Time | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self-released

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