Drummer and composer Colin Stranahan made his debut at the age of 17 with the Capri Records release Dreams Untold. Just a couple of years later, he released his second recording, Transformation, with the LeBouf brothers. Since then, he’s been establishing himself in the New York scene and has even been to India with Herbie Hancock and the Monk Institute Band.
What’s more incredible is the way Stranahan commands things with his new record, Life Condition. There’s no question that the record carries subtle influences from that India trip, but it’s the deep interplay between the Colorado native and his musicians that really makes this thing pop, sizzle and roll.
Stranahan’s trio rounds out with saxophonist Ben Van Gelder and bassist Chris Smith. Saxophonist Jake Saslow, a fellow Monk Institute alum, sits in on two tracks.
Stranahan’s compositions spring from a wish to connect with his fellow musicians, so that sets an intimate foundation from which the lush music springs. The drummer lays down rich groundwork, providing space for the saxophonist and bassist to collaborate on tight grooves and expansive but deliberate patterns.
Life Condition opens with Ben Van Gelder’s “The Birthday Song,” an insistent, groovy number that draws all the players in. Smith essentially provides the rhythm while Stranahan’s creative use of cymbals and sticks drops splashes of colour over the proceedings.
Irving Berlin’s 1932 “How Deep is the Ocean?” slowly burns to life thanks to Van Gelder’s intimate saxophone. Stranahan’s light brushes tap into play, while Smith’s bass walks some solid lines to spot the edges. It’s a beautiful rendition of a tune played by the likes of the Bill Evans Trio, Dexter Gordon and Eric Clapton.
“Evidence,” a Thelonious Monk track, begins with a clever bit of work from Stranahan. He toys with the notion of rhythm, adding sparkles and fills here and there with careful consideration. When the familiar Monk refrain pulls through after two and a half minutes of work, it solidifies with the drums and melts into place like a logical extension.
Stranahan’s original “For the Third Time” engages with its dual saxophones and soft rise. His use of repetition adds a mysterious tinge, while the light touches of bass give the tune its suitably meandering gait.
Stranahan’s playing goes far beyond the simple provision of rhythm or “time-keeping” and the rest of the players fall into place, making Life Condition an engrossing affair as exotic, joyful and adventurous as the composer/drummer’s experiences in India.