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Their 1997 debut on saxophonist David Binney’s “Mythology Label” marked a high point for jazz, as “Lan Xang” pursued modern jazz with crushing penetration and an edge rarely witnessed in small acoustic ensembles. On Hidden Gardens the musicians continue their conviction, while augmenting the group sound and overall sonic appearance with ethnocentric horns, percussion and Binney’s conceptualized utilization of samplers.
The potent two-sax attack commences on “The Restless Many”. Here and throughout, the saxophonist’s are a mini-orchestra as they pursue engaging themes and ideas that may indeed take the listener to no man’s land, aided by intriguingly ethereal samples and otherworldly motifs. The band belts out hot, punchy “Brecker Brother-ish” horn charts on “Trinity Place” while McCaslin’s flute performance on “Xang Six” counterbalances the faintly suggested inferences of Asian modalities. On “Mode Four”, Scott Colley’s booming yet authoritative bass performance anchors the steamy, hard driving dual sax lines as Binney and McCaslin jab and spar atop a simply devastating rhythm section. This is “Heavy Metal” jazz sans the metallic element which equates to loads of impact and excitement as minimalist choruses segue into rampant free-jazz dialogue on “Xang Eight”. Binney is a literal speed merchant during the slightly abstract yet high-octane-funk piece titled, “Gradual Impulse” as he and McCaslin shout lofty unison choruses atop pounding rhythms.
The underlying mood or premise may suggest that Hidden Gardens is an untainted or unspoiled dwelling that cultivates one’s imaginative powers. Here, “Lan Xang” act as your virtual tour guides for this most appealing and quite extraordinary voyage. * * * * 1/2
Donny McCaslin; Tenor & Soprano Sax, Flute, Tunisian Horn, Percussion: David Binney; Alto Sax, Clarinet & Live Samples: Scott Colley; Bass, Percussion: Kenny Wolleson; Drums, Percussion