Sunday, May 17, 2020

Brian Landrus – an essential voice on low woodwinds – explores heartbreak, longing and romance on intimate new recording For Now

Brian Landrus – an essential voice on low woodwinds – explores heartbreak, longing and romance on intimate new recording For Now

Album features jazz masters Fred Hersch, Drew Gress and Billy Hart
plus Michael Rodriguez, Sara Caswell and a string quartet

For Now includes ten Landrus compositions, plus “Invitation,” “’Round Midnight”
and a milestone Landrus & Hersch duo flight on “Ruby, My Dear”

“Tonal nuance, melodic sense and instrumental command that set him apart from his peers.”
– Ed Enright, DownBeat

Available May 15, 2020 via BlueLand Records

For Now has a lot to say about romance, and it says it with quiet conviction and passionate declaration. Ace multi-reedist and composer Brian Landrus whose groundbreaking 2017 large-ensemble album Generations “takes the jazz big band tradition into the mesosphere” (Giovanni Russonello, New York Times), turns here to inner pathways, bringing together a remarkable quartet: pianist Fred Hersch bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart. Rounding out the musical equation are the brilliant young players Michael Rodriguez (trumpet) and Sara Caswell (violin), plus inventive and elegant string quartet arrangements by Landrus and the distinguished opera composer Robert Aldridge featuring Caswell and Joyce Hamman (violin), Lois Martin (viola) and Jody Redhage-Ferber (cello). The album is produced by Aldridge and composer/writer Herschel Garfein, both Grammy winners.

“A composer of great strength and substance,” (All About Jazz), Brian Landrus, has emerged from his 30s with elation, heartache, delight and disenchantment, and he brings all that experience to the album’s ten original compositions and three standards. “As I was writing For Now, I could feel it coming from a very deep place, directly from some truly difficult and some unforgettably beautiful life experiences,” Landrus says. “I felt, at every moment, ‘I need to do this.’” In compositions like “The Second Time,” “ JJ” and “Clarity in Time,” that need stirs just beneath the elegant surface of the music. In the title track, “For Now,” it pours out as an unaffected love ballad. Often, Landrus sets a forthright and open-hearted tune over deceptively complex harmonies, as in the tender “Her Smile,” and in his waltzes, which can be searching and impetuous (“The Night of Change”), sun-splashed melancholy (“The Miss”) or noonday cool (“The Wait”). His compositional voice confidently ranges from tunes that have the poise and assurance of standards-you’ve-never-heard, such as “The Signs” and “JJ,” to abstract romantic dreamscapes like “The Night of Change.”

Throughout these varied compositions, Landrus plays with infinite shadings and suppleness on instruments often associated with thundering harshness or compromised tone. On the baritone saxophone he sings out tenderly and with deep feeling on “Ruby, My Dear” and “The Second Time,” spins sweet roulades light as air on “Her Smile” and “The Miss,” stays low for a crushed-velvet sound on “JJ,” and plays with a dusky burnish that seems to linger after each phrase on “The Signs,” “Invitation,” and “Clarity in Time.” Landrus reserves the bass clarinet for intimate and lyrical musings (“For Now,” “The Wait,” “For Whom I Imagined”), but then sets free its full palette of colors for his astonishing solo version of Monk’s masterpiece “’Round Midnight.” The Night of Change” features Landrus soloing with glowing angularity on alto flute.

A perfect team of collaborators are at the heart of For Now. “I have wanted to play with Fred Hersch since first hearing him twenty years ago,” Landrus recounts. “I love how he finds the deepest color and beauty in everything he plays. From the moment we began recording, he played my original compositions as if he had written them.”  

As Landrus worked on the music for the album, another inspiration struck. “In certain compositions, the harmonies I was hearing could only be properly realized with a string quartet,” he says. “A longstanding inspiration from Harry Carney with Strings and Stan Getz’s Focus came back to fill my head with lush string sonorities.” He and Robert Aldridge added string arrangements that are clean, inventive and vibrant.

Rounding out this album of ten original Landrus compositions are three very special performances of standards, including Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” featuring Landrus on solo bass-clarinet, Bronislaw Kaper’s “Invitation” featuring fresh, effortless swing from the whole ensemble in Landrus’s own arrangement, and an exhilarating duet performance featuring Landrus and Hersch on Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.”

“I consider Fred to be the foremost Monk interpreter of our time,” says Landrus. “So I was astounded when he told me that he had never publicly played ‘Ruby, My Dear,’ What floored me was his freedom with it; most pianists don’t dare diverge from what Monk played. Fred made it his own in a deeply reverential way.”

“Ruby, My Dear” is the capstone to this masterfully assured and variegated album; an interpretation for now and for the ages.

Brian Landrus
Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Brian Landrus has established himself as one of the world’s leading voices on low woodwinds. He has been voted #1 Rising Star Baritone Saxophonist in DownBeat Magazine’s 63rd Annual Critics Poll, and voted the #3 Baritone Saxophonist in the world in the 2020 JazzTimes Readers Poll. 

In addition to leading his own groups, Landrus has toured internationally with Esperanza Spalding and performed with Bob Brookmeyer, Lewis Nash, John Lockwood, Nicholas Payton, Nir Felder, Marcus Strickland, Jerry Bergonzi, Danilo Perez, Gary Smulyan, Maria Schneider, The Temptations, Feist, The Four Tops, George Garzone, The Drifters, Jason Palmer,  Rufus Reid, and Ralph Alessi, among others.

Landrus has released ten albums as a leader, including six on his BlueLand Records label. Born in 1978 and raised in Nevada, Landrus began playing saxophone at 12 and was performing professionally by 15. He earned his bachelor’s degree from University of Nevada-Reno and two Master of Music degrees from New England Conservatory, and a PhD in classical composition from Rutgers University. Landrus is on faculty at Rutgers University.

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