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Steve Khan: Parting Shot

John Kelman By

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Evolution is one of those things where an artist either gradually shifts direction, or makes sudden quantum leaps. Guitarist Steve Khan has done both in a career dating back four decades, and the first of three hot fusion records for Columbia as a leader, Tightrope (1977), that fit firmly in Brecker Brothers camp, but, with an in-your-face guitar presence that ran the occasional risk of over-dominance. Khan had a clear epiphany with Evidence (Arista, 1980), an overlooked gem interpreting the music of Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and others in a largely acoustic environs, but with an array of guitars broadening its expansive soundscape.

Another paradigm shift came with the formation of Eyewitness, Khan adopting a more Spartan approach in a percussion-driven context where space and groove reigned paramount; as was a passion for Latin rhythms that began to creep into his music. Khan's subsequent growth was more incremental, and a recent revival of activity has yielded some particularly fine recordings on Tone Center: the improv-heavy The Green Field (2006); more ambitious Borrowed Time (2007); and tremendous The Suitcase (2008), from a live 1994 Eyewitness date, minus the group's regular percussionist, Manolo Badrena.

Khan's steadfast avoidance of guitar grandstanding has kept him away from greater visibility, but Parting Shot may, in fact, be the definitive Khan recording that embraces a plethora of Latin rhythms in the looser context of Eyewitness. Intimate details of the session can be read in the guitarist's Reflections on the Making of Parting Shot, an AAJ exclusive; but suffice to say his bomba on a short but seminal reading of Monk's "Bye-Ya," the "find-the-one" gaita of his own "Los Gaiteros," and comingling of James Brown funk, Brazilian tinges and Afro-Cuban 6/8 pulse on "María Mulambo" demonstrate an intimacy with Latin forms that few, if any, guitarists have explored to this extent. Khan's Reflections describes the work that went into making Parting Shot—an Eyewitness reunion augmented by two additional percussionists, and Rob Mounsey's tasteful orchestrations on a handful of tracks, making it the most densely arranged and sonically expansive album the group has ever made—but it's easier to dispense with the info and just groove to Khan's music, which is as booty-shaking as it is cerebral.

Khan's playing remains the epitome of economy, as he peppers deceptively simple lines with complex chordal voicings that belie tremendous knowledge without losing their inherent organic feel. Parting Shot retains Borrowed Time's tasty grooves, but its more electrified energy makes it the perfect follow-up to The Suitcase, as Khan injects spare harmonization on Ornette Coleman's "Chronology" and his buoyant closer, "Just Deserts," and a sweetly overdriven tone on the simmering "Zancudoville" that harkens back to his early days, but with greater maturity and restraint.

A restraint that defines Parting Shot, despite its high octane (and, undeniably at times, thoroughly exhilarating) participants. Parting Shot may well be Khan's final recording as a leader. If it is, it's a great way to go out; but when an album is this good, it's hard not to demand a follow-up. To quote Star Trek: KHAN?!

Track Listing: Chronology; Los Gaiteros; Change Agent; Bye-Ya; María Mulambo; Influences Peddler; When She's Not Here; Blues Connotation; Zancudoville; Just Deserts.

Personnel: Steve Khan: guitar; Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar; Dennis Chambers: drums; Manolo Badrena: percussion, voice (5, 10); Marc Quiñones: timbale, bongo, percussion; Bobby Allendes: conga; Rob Mounsey: keyboards (9), orchestrations (2, 4, 6 7); Tatiana Parra: voice (6), Andrés Beeeuwsaert: voice (6).

Title: Parting Shot | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Tone Center

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