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Steve Khan: The Green Field

John Kelman By

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Nine years have passed since guitarist Steve Khan last released an album as a leader. But he hasn't been inactive, touring with artists like Terri Lyne Carrington and Greg Osby and co-leading the Caribbean Jazz Project. However, it's been far too long since he's released an album putting his immediately recognizable style front and centre.

Khan may not have the cachet of peers like Pat Metheny and John Scofield, but from the first notes of the recording, it's clear that this is nobody but Steve Khan. His distinctive, at times almost pianistic approach makes his less prominent position mysterious. Hopefully The Green Field, his most fully realized record to date, will reach the greater audience he so richly deserves.

Khan reunites with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who last played together on Got My Mental (Evidence, 1996). While the trio has only worked together during rehearsals and recording sessions for these two releases, these musicians share a remarkable chemistry. Nowhere is this more evident than on the free bop of the eighteen-minute title track. Also featuring percussionist/vocalist Manolo Badrena, a key collaborator who was instrumental in Khan's Eyewitness group, "The Green Field" may be the freest piece that Khan has ever recorded. Though clear motifs strategically emerge, it's as much about texture as thematic development, which is all the more remarkable during the moments when the quartet magically coalesces, before heading off into greater uncharted territories.

The title track's liberated free play may feel new to Khan's fans, but rest assured, his strong sense of groove is also in full force. The modal "El Viñón opens with a vamp featuring Khan's unique voicings and DeJohnette playing all around the time, but ultimately resolves into a middle section where Patitucci and DeJohnette swing amiably behind Khan's relaxed, behind- the-beat linearity. The guitarist leans to carefully constructed lines that selflessly serve the music, but every now and then he lets loose with lightening speed, just to let you know the chops are there when needed. His ability to seamlessly intersperse strong melodies and vivid chordal phrases has become a defining characteristic, and he's never done it better.

The same can be said for Khan's writing. "Fist in Glove is a blues so radically altered harmonically as to be nearly unrecognizable, while "Cosecha lo que Has Sembrado, with guest percussionists Ralph Irizarry and Robert Quintero, viscerally mines the Afro-Cuban territory that's been part of Khan's musical continuum for years.

Equally remarkable is Khan's reinvention of material by Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman and Wayne Shorter. Cleverly integrating Shorter's "Sanctuary and "Nefertiti into a seamless whole, Khan demonstrates an uncanny ability to distinctly interpret well-known material. If it wasn't so familiar, you'd think he'd written it himself.

Maybe Khan's avoidance of musical grandstanding explains why he's never achieved the popularity of his peers. But The Green Field is mature and imaginative, showcasing him at the top of his game.

Track Listing: El Vi��n; Congeniality; Riot; Fist in Glove; Cosecha lo que Has Sembrado; Sanctuary/Nefertiti; Eronel; You Stepped Out of a Dream; The Green Field.

Personnel: Steve Khan: guitar; John Pattitucci: acoustic bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Manolo Badrena; percussion, voice; Ralph Irizarry: timbales (3,5,6,8); Roberto Quintero: congas, percussion (3,5,6,8).

Title: The Green Field | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Tone Center

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