Steve Khan's first record in nine years, The Green Field (Tone Center, 2006) was splendid, and represented an impressive combination of some of the guitarist's freest playing to date alongside the compelling Afro-Cuban grooves that have inspired him for years. Borrowed Time is even more ambitious, utilizing a larger cast and more expansive textures.
From the opening moments of the Thelonious Monk/Coleman Hawkins classic "I Mean You," Khan's astute interpretive approach is crystal clear. Mixing 4/4 swing with an Afro-Cuban 6/8, what's most remarkable is how drummer Jack DeJohnette (back, with bassist John Patitucci, from The Green Field on six of the album's nine tracks) meshes so seamlessly with percussionists Ralph Irizarry and Roberto Quintero.
Even more extraordinary is Khan's "El Faquir," where DeJohnette is joined by no less than four additional percussionists. That the track doesn't dissolve into polyrhythmic chaos demonstrates Khan's ability to micromanage his arrangements while always seeing the bigger picture. Despite the core of the tune being in 11/4, it grooves hard and features a stunning bass clarinet solo from Bob Mintzeran impressive saxophonist who has been doing some of his best work lately on its deeper-toned cousin.
Longtime keyboard partner Rob Mounsey guests on the balladic "Face Value" and Khan's rhythmically buoyant, harmonically detailed arrangement of the Rodgers & Hart standard "Have You Met Miss Jones," a tribute to Clare Fischer's distinctive harmonic approach. Both also feature another longtime friend, Randy Brecker, on flugelhorn. His ability to weave distinctively lyrical lines through the changes is matched by Khan, who does some of his best playing on the album here.
Since a musical epiphany that took place with Khan's Eyewitness band in the early 1980s, the guitarist has always placed the music ahead of personal considerations and been judicious with his use of effects that other guitarists often overuse to excess. Taste has always been the primary consideration, and his use of whammy-barred ESP Stratocaster, with steel string acoustic on "Face Value" and nylon string guitar on both "Miss Jones" and "Luna Y Arena" (a Latin bolero interpretation of Alec Wilder's "Moon and Sand") sung by Gabriela Anders, are all evidence of his ability to hear exactly what a song calls for.
Two McCoy Tyner tunes further demonstrate Khan's open-minded approach. "Blues for Ball" swings in a loose way, Khan's expressive lines peppered with spare chordal passages, while "Hymn Song" is reinvented as a viscerally grooving cha- cha.
Khan doesn't aim to impress with meaningless displays of technical virtuosity (though he's clearly in possession of the kind of chops, and harmonic and melodic acumen to go head-to-head with anyone), and the detailed arrangements on Borrowed Time never get in the way of this being unequivocally a blowing session. Khan always looks for deeply personal ways to approach music that moves him, original or otherwise. Hard though it is to imagine, Borrowed Time is even more impressive than The Green Field.
I Mean You; Mr. and Mrs. People; Face Value; El Faquir; You're My Girl; Blues for
Ball; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Luna Y Arena (Moon and Sand); Hymn Song.
Steve Khan: guitar (1-2, 4-6, 9), ESP Strat and Martin MC-28 steel string guitars
(3); Yamaha APX-10N nylon string guitar (7, 8); John Patitucci: bass (1, 2, 4-6, 9);
Jack DeJohnette: drums (1, 2, 4-6, 9); Manolo Badrena: percussion and voice (2,
4-6); Ralph Irizarry: timbal (1, 4, 9); Roberto Quintero: conga and percussion (1,
9), guiro and maracas (4); Randy Brecker: flugelhorn (3, 7, 8); Rob Mounsey:
keyboards (3, 7); Rub�n Rodriguez: baby bass (3, 8), five-string electric bass (7);
Marc Qui�ones: timbal, guiro and maracas (3), timbal, maracas and guiro (7),
timbal conga, bongo, guiro and maracas (8), conga and percussion (9); Bobby
Allende: conga and bongo (3), conga and maracas (7); Bob Mintzer: bass clarinet
(4); Badal Roy: tabla (4); Geeta Roy: tamboura (4); Gabriela Anders: vocal (8);
Rafael Greco: Spanish lyrics (8).