Saxophonist Brian Landrus created this project with a purpose summed up in its subtitle, Music Dedicated to the Preservation of our Endangered Species. The album was made to create awareness about all the animal species on Earth in danger of extinction, thirteen of which are explicitly referenced here. For most of these, such as the Malayan tiger and the snow leopard, only a few hundreds or thousands are still alive. For the Javan rhino, there were only 67 left at the time this album was made. For the vaquita, a species of porpoise, there were only eight.
Musical works that deal with environmental danger and the threat of extinction are often somber and heavy, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. Landrus' music takes a much different approach. The entire album celebrates these vanishing animals with music full of life and grandeur. It encompasses flowing, jazz-rock grooves, simmering funk, big band shouts and African and Jamaican rhythms and conveys a sense of the beauty and wonder these animals bring into the world and what would be lost if they disappear.
The album travels through fleet rock rhythms on "Canopy of Trees," elegant jazz-funk on "Tigris" and "Upriver" and tarry reggae and dub sounds on "Save The Elephants" and "Leatherbacks." "Vaquita" itself, even though the animal is close to dying off, is anything but a funeral dirge. Instead it's a swooping tapestry of lovely music spotlighting Landrus' bass clarinet, Geoffrey Keezer's electric piano and Jaleel Shaw's alto sax. As a player, Landrus is all over the album leading the ensemble with rapturous baritone sax and bass clarinet lines, as well as playing mellow low flute on "Distant Deeps" that complements Corey King's hushed vocals. Guitarist Nir Felder stands out with his delicate picking on "Nocturnal Flight" and choppy African riffs on the majestic "Congo Basin." Trombonist Ryan Keberle and trumpeter Steve Roach are also integral parts of the ensemble while the rhythm section of bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Rudy Royston and percussionist John Hadfield adapt well to all the varying genre shifts.
Like much of Maria Schneider's work, this album celebrates the glories of nature, but focuses in the parts of it that are in danger of going away permanently. Brian Landrus has created a powerful, life-affirming work that will hopefully inspire listeners to find out more about these endangered animals and learn what can be done to pull them back from the brink of disappearing.
Canopy of Trees; The Red List; Giant Panda; Nocturnal Flight; Tigris; The Distant Deeps;
Save the Elephants; Mariana Dove; Bwindi Forest; Congo Basin; Leatherbacks; Upriver;
Only Eight; Vaquita; Javan Rhino.
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