When Brian Landrus kicks it in on Traverse, his newest record with a very special quartet, there’s a recognizable spirit at work. His bass clarinet and baritone saxophone may inhabit the lower end of the spectrum, but Landrus’ playing rises up with the rest of his group and provides a firm, soulful tradition to bathe in. That recognizable spirit? That’s straight from the heart.
Coming off of the critically acclaimed Forward, Traverse follows up Landrus’ debut with new beginnings in this quartet offering. Not only does this record, along with the soon-to-be released Capsule, signify the launch of his own record label BlueLand Records, it symbolizes his progress as an artist and his ability to blend effectively with other sublime players.
This record locks in Landrus as one of the bold new voices in jazz. He’s at home with tradition and all that stuffy stuff, but he’s also willing to blow the doors off and experiment with his arrangement. For Traverse, he’s brought along Michael Cain (piano), Lonnie Plaxico (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) to help with the experimentation.
As the record bobs and weaves through its eight tracks, Landrus effectively builds his presence. He doesn’t overwhelm, choosing instead to stay within the delicate balance of the quartet. Solos come along for the betterment of the whole, not to establish the spotlight of the player. And the arrangements give equal measure to each performer, amplifying Landrus’ emphasis on the collective.
At the same time, it’s hard not to ignore the boldness of his playing. The title track opens with easy swing and Landrus’ baritone sax. It has a slightly cheeky introduction, leading in one melodic direction to what seems almost like a clear theme and springing off in the other with a gleeful smirk. The little change-up pitch is accented by Hart’s smattering of cymbals.
These smaller moments are all over Traverse, making it a jazz record that requires careful attention. On the surface, the pieces resonate well with sharp melodies and broad strokes of colour. But beneath, Landrus’ compositions contain winding roads and tricky passages that should satisfying even the most discerning of listeners.
A favourite of mine is “Creeper.” The track opens with a bluesy touch. Hart’s impeccable brushwork provides the pace, but the fills “creep” in and punch the thing up. Plaxico walks a funky line and Cain’s ivories jump to get in on the action. Landrus sits back a little, seemingly under a street lamp with a smoke, and the band tackles the mood-setting with vigour. A couple of mean solos kill.
Traverse is one of those albums that works on multiple levels. The surface of the arrangements allows for a cool break from the everyday monotony of the charts, but the more interesting paths on this journey lie destined for discovery in repeat listens.