You have to be a heck of a jazz musician to assemble and lead a quartet that includes pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart. But sax/clarinet/flute player Brian Landrus–that’s Dr. Brian Landrus to you–has the talent to place his name at the top of that line up in his new album, For Now. Landrus is “an essential voice on low woodwinds,” a very interesting description I noticed on the press release, but just a few moments into For Now and you’ll know you’re hearing one of those once in a lifetime gatherings where four master jazz musicians are in the same room at the same time.
Brian Landrus and his crew reminds me a little bit of Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else, when that alto sax player managed to get Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones and Art Blakey in the studio. Or you could look at the obvious example, Kind of Blue, where Davis corralled Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb to make what’s arguably the greatest jazz recording of all time. That sounds like a silly overstatement, that I’m comparing For Now to two legendary albums. But For Now does capture that rare feeling of four performers who are able to express themselves uniquely while working seamlessly as a team.
For Now is a full and sweeping examination of love and romance that combines mostly original compositions with a smattering of covers (“Ruby, My Dear,” “Round Midnight” and “Invitation”). While it showcases Brian Landrus and his elegant way with his low woodwinds, his ability to be simple and straightforward despite an exhilarating amount of notes, I still felt a little chill down my spine when Fred Hersch would take over and present his unusual yet always welcome musical choices into the mix. The rhythm section is solid, inventive and flawless.
Brian Landrus can do no wrong with this quartet, but he adds more layers of beauty through a string quartet on a few tracks, and even throwing the spotlight on a few young performers such as trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and violinist Sara Caswell. For Now is the type of jazz album where you can blindly choose a point in the album, press play, and you’ll hear a jazz thoroughbred running around the track. Landrus’ doctorate is in classical composition, so that explains the pedigree and the perfection, and he’s on the faculty at Rutgers, so he understands the need to capture lightning in a bottle, so to speak, for future generations. If you want to hear true and pure jazz in the 21st century, For Now is an eloquent statement.