Two Colors (Rhinoceruss, 2004), the first release from saxophonist Russ Nolan as a leader, impressed by virtue of an exquisite partnership with pianist Sam Barsh and the leader's convincing command of both tenor and soprano saxophones. The saxophonist's sophomore effort, With You in Mind, reprises his traditional approach in the context of pianist Kenny Werner's superb piano trio. Nolan's affinity for pianists is again readily apparent on a varied musical program that includes paeans to Trane, Monk and drummer Billy Kilson.
Not your run-of-the-mill tenor player who leans on speed or a big round tone to impress, Nolan's uniqueness lies in his facility for delicately presenting the upper registers of his instrument, much in evidence on "With You in Mind." It is a style that, save for cuts like an intriguing reworking of Trane's "Naima" and a boppish take on the NYC subway entitled "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors," is more akin to that of a vocalist who uses phrasing and diction to achieve desired moods. This is most apparent on songs where the trio provides a more open soundstage, like the pensive title cut and medium tempo closer "By The Way."
Conversely, Nolan's phrasing can also engage Werner in wonderfully charming conversation. Such is the case as piano dances divinely with soprano on what is only a somewhat "Disheveled Waltz." Bassist Johannes Weidenmueller and drummer Ari Hoenig provide some quirky rhythms that add authenticity to the Monk tribute "Diatonicus," spice up the opening "Kilson's Groove" and interject bop and ballad story lines into "Tales From the Head."
While second efforts can sometimes suffer from a dearth of originality, Nolan effectively explores new ground without sacrificing his strengths.
Kilson's Groove; Stand Clear of the Closing Doors; Disheveled Waltz; With You in Mind; Tales from the Head; Waiting; Diatonicus; Naima; By the Way.
Russ Nolan: tenor and soprano saxophones; Kenny Werner: piano; Johannes Weidenmueller: bass; Ari Hoenig: drums.
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