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Steve Khan: Patchwork


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: Steve Khan: Patchwork
Few artists have been as successful as Steve Khan in achieving a genuine blend of jazz and Latin sensibilities, rhythms and sonorities. In fact, it can be suggested that no one else has done what he has accomplished for the jazz guitar, offering both the extensions of what Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Grant Green did in their day, plus the real sabor latino.

Khan, of course, is one of the preeminent guitarists of the last few decades, with a constantly developing sound that for years has shown a warm, clean, "liquid" tone, sophisticated harmonic palette and frequently lyrical leanings that make it immediately identifiable. It's a sound that speaks of wisdom and of attention to the fundamental aspects of the music: melody, touch, beauty, swing, harmony and collaboration. Its soft-spoken authority is instantly attractive. Its profound love and respect for both jazz and Latin music are evident.

Ever the exploratory soul, Khan has chosen to travel along a path of his own devising, blending a jazz guitar trio with Latin percussionists. Patchwork expands to four the installments of this personal canon, which began with Parting Shot (2011), Subtext (2014) and continued with Backlog (2017). Taken together, they comprise a unique body of work, as well as a fascinating vista into a rarely investigated way of making jazz. Patchwork is a highlight of the series, with Khan at his melodic best and navigating more skillfully than ever the polyrhythmic waters of Latin styles.

The guitarist has been fortunate enough to retain for the series a core group that has developed a deep simpatico. Latin music giants Marc Quinones, Bobby Allende and bassist Ruben Rodriguez have graced the recent albums. Here, some of Khan's dear colleagues return again: Rob Mounsey on keyboards and orchestrations, drummer Dennis Chambers, Randy Brecker on flügelhorn and Bob Mintzer on tenor sax.

As on the previous recordings, Khan draws from two of jazz's richest wells -those of Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk -for compositions to reimagine, also including his takes on rarely covered tunes. All of them receive the distinctive treatment only this kind of group can provide.

Monk's "Epistrophy" is the perfect evidence of how far Khan has traveled in the development of a personal language for Latin jazz guitar. He unleashes here a softly vibrant cascade of ideas, in a delightfully-phrased, rhythmically adroit improvisation that is situated in the precise convergence of jazz and Afro persuasions: Afro-Cuban 6/8, Abakwa, Eyewitness, the Bernard Purdie Shuffle, and Steve's sense of swing 4/4, work so well for this evergreen Monk tune that you might think he composed it with those rhythms in mind. The final solos by Chambers and Quiñones are simply spectacular.

A harmonically oblique Latin montuno kicks off Coleman's "C. & D." giving way to his wonderfully zigzagging melody. A true salsa-jazz feel is maintained during the performance, with Bob Mintzer's authoritative tenor sax solo, heralded by a signature soli, all at the command of the unstoppable rhythm machine. Khan's guitar solo comes next, with all its swinging beauty, and a reprise of the opening montuno supports the Quiñones timbal improvisation.

Following a memorable performance with another, Khan offers up "Bouquet," from Bobby Hutcherson's Happenings, an album for which he has a strong affinity, having covered two other tunes on Backlog. Interpreted as a unique bolero played in 3/4, his steel-string acoustic guitar embraced by Rob Mounsey's beautiful orchestration showcases Khan's most soulful side with deep blue resonances.

The sexily undulating cadence of cha-cha introduces "Naan Issue," the lone Khan original on the album. Listen to the way he engages in careful "song building" during his bluesy solo, patiently constructing his narrative with one melodic motif after another. "Wes Montgomery's chord changes for 'Movin' Along' became the foundation of the piece, and the now familiar blend of guitar, piccolo and bass clarinet state the eerie melody. The harmonies that support the melody and the last three choruses of the solo are all Clare Fischer-influenced, and required the superb musicianship of Rob Mounsey."

Randy Brecker's dynamic and powerful flügelhorn takes the lead on Joe Henderson's "A Shade of Jade," reinvigorated as a fast-tempoed son montuno. Check out the rich orchestrations, the change to caballo for Khan's magical solo, the expert support provided by Rubén Rodríguez' electric bass and the tightly knit unit this rhythm section has become. Potent solos by Allende and Chambers cap this masterful recreation of a jazz classic.

Enthused Khan, "one key component of Latin music that I had not been able to integrate into this series of recordings was the presence of a brass section. Now, we have one, and it gives this arrangement a kind of punch that it might not have otherwise possessed."

It's Khan's guitar all the way on the tender Lerner and Lane ballad "Too Late Now." This Afro-bolero-cha highlights Mounsey's softly textured orchestrations, serving to enhance the romantic vibe. Khan delivers a magnificent solo, gorgeously tying one musical idea to the next. The unexpected cha-cha brings a rhythmic push, without diminishing the romantic aura.

A jubilant collection of montunos is the foundation for Ornette Coleman's "T. & T." "One can hear echoes of Clare Fischer, Chick Corea with Herbie Mann, or the early incarnation of Chick's Return to Forever," comments Khan. "It is a mélange of many influences all coming together." Here it is transformed into the percussionists' vehicle. Marc Quiñones, Bobby Allende and Dennis Chambers all have their say before Maestro Khan reappears. It is una buena rumba ("a really good party"), in which each participant gives his best for the enjoyment of the listener.

Keith Jarrett's "The Journey Home" from his iconic My Song album is one of the most extraordinary items in Khan's entire recording career. It's a suite that begins with a dreamy, rubato intro played by Khan on nylon-string guitar and Rob Mounsey on Fender Rhodes. Returning to his Gibson 335, Part II is a trance-like cha-cha, which allows Khan's sweet tone and depth of expression full rein with unique orchestral guitar colors from his Strat. "I always felt that the final sections could easily become an Afro-Cuban 6/8 with a sense of romance. Retuning to my nylon-string, a surprise twist is the addition of vocalese supplied by the great Tatiana Parra and yours truly." The finale, shaped by Chambers' drums rising from a whisper to powerful Gospel-tinged Fusion, and Mounsey's wind-driven solo strengthen the warm, romantic air of the performance. This has become one of the guitarist's most personal performances.

Vocalese and dreamy airs reappear and alternate with rumba segments on the album's last tune, "Huracán Clare," composed and arranged by keyboardist Jorge Estrada. Estrada's open homage to Clare Fischer's music fits perfectly as this album's closer, with Khan on nylon-string, and "hard swingin' salsa with Brazilian vocalese. This "huracán" is a creative, life-renewing stimulus.

Expanding upon the concepts of his previous albums and expressing himself with even greater freedom and authority, Khan has created one of the best albums of his illustrious career. It does honor its name, but it is a most coherent kind of patchwork, lovingly woven together. Joyous and intellectually-stimulating, it is Latin jazz brilliance which you can dance to. A rare gem, indeed, to be enjoyed many times over.

Liner Notes copyright © 2024 Rafael Vega Curry.

Patchwork can be purchased here.

Rafael Vega Curry Contact Rafael Vega Curry at All About Jazz.

Track Listing

Epistrophy; C. & D. (Civilización y sus Descontentos); Bouquet (Un Ramo De Flores); Naan Issue; Shade of Jade (Un Tono de Jade); Too Late Now (Demasiado Tarde); T. & T. (Tötem y Tabú); The Journey Home (El Camino a Casa); Huracán Clare; Nature Boy (digital-only bonus track).


Album information

Title: Patchwork | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Tone Center



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