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One Lineup, Two Approaches

Jerome Wilson By

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These two releases have the same instrumental lineup, a jazz quintet fronted by saxophone and trumpet plus a string quartet. They even use the same trumpet player, Michael Rodriguez. However the two CDs take this formation down different paths.

Brian Landrus
For Now
Blueland
2020

Baritone saxophonist Brian Landrus goes in an openly romantic direction here, leading a set of thirteen relatively compact original compositions and jazz standards. He and Rodriguez are supported by an all-star rhythm section of Fred Hersch on piano, Drew Gress on bass and Billy Hart on drums. The string quartet does not appear on every track but when they do they enhance the overall sound when, sighing behind Landrus' mobile baritone swooning on pieces like "Invitation" and "Clarity In Time" and adding a bright sheen to the jaunty happiness of "Her Smile."

Tracks without the strings, like "JJ" and "The Signs," show what the basic quintet can do. Landrus' big-hearted baritone sax and Rodriguez's flowing trumpet sail together rapturously at moderate and fast tempos over the dynamic rhythm work of Hersch, Gress and Hart. Landrus also gets to demonstrate his talents on other woodwinds. He plays lyrical flute on "The Night Of Change," has a dramatic solo bass clarinet feature on Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" and plays both against bittersweet strings on "For Whom I Imagined." The best bit of all comes at the end when Landrus and Hersch do an intimate and sensual duet of Monk's "Ruby My Dear" that could almost pass as a dream collaboration between Harry Carney and Bill Evans.

David Bixler Bixtet
Blended Lineage
Red Piano Records
2020

Alto saxophonist David Bixler's effort with the quintet plus strings format is a suite with four movements that gives off an overall feeling of quiet focus and determination. The strings are more fully integrated into the music this time, giving a hazy backdrop to the insistent pulsing of Bixler and Rodriguez on "Origins" before Jon Cowherd rolls into lively soloing and the horns return, stretching and twisting their unison lines. "Motherland," dedicated to Bixler's home state of Wisconsin, is the only track without strings, a lively stretch of folk-jazz rambling in the Pat Metheny-Dave Grusin vein. On "Trenches" saxophone and trumpet are intricately locked together over a drawn-out string backdrop before Rodriguez, Cowherd, bassist Luke Sellick and percussionist Fabio Rojas take off on a semi-funky tear full of bumps and angles. Rodriguez really excels here. "My Soul Swoons Slowly" is largely a melancholy soliloquy for Bixler with the string quartet quietly seething and Cowherd elegantly comping behind him. Bixler and his group make powerful music that has a sense of dignity and maturity even in its more playful moments.

Tracks and Personnel

For Now

Tracks: The Signs; Clarity In Time; The Miss; JJ; For Now; 'Round Midnight; Invitation; For Whom I Imagined; The Night Of Change; The Second Time; Her Smile; The Wait; Ruby, My Dear.

Personnel: Brian Landrus: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute, C flute; Fred Hersch: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Billy Hart: drums; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Sara Caswell: violin; Joyce Hammann: violin; Lois Martin: viola; Jody Redhage-Ferber: cello.

Blended Lineage

Tracks: Origins; Motherland; Trenches; My Soul Swoons Slowly.

Personnel: David Bixler: alto saxophone; Mike Rodriguez: trumpet; Jon Cowherd: piano; Luke Sellick: bass; Fabio Rojas: percussion; Judith Ingolfsson: violin; Heather Martin Bixler: violin; Josh Kail: viola; Rubin Kodhel: cello.

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