Saxophone player Kenny Shanker and his new album, Beautiful Things, act as quite the polar opposite to the Swiss and Russian jazz that has dominated my review schedule over the last few weeks. These international takes on a distinctly American art form drift in perspective as I’ve mentioned, such as the languid and cerebral Alternate Reality from Florian Weiss that I discussed a few days ago. You want an example of how the European jazz differs from what’s going on with the contemporary jazz that’s being played in the States? Here you go.
That’s because the jazz on Beautiful Things is bright and energetic and to the point, and it is coated in an optimism that the Swiss and the Russians gladly trade for a little cerebral and revisionist attitudes. Kenny Shanker is a powerful and confident sax player, and covers all the jazz bases with uncommon clarity and direction. This is not noodling, but rather a focused exploration of jazz, perhaps a little polished, but it’s a natural varnish that reflects decades of jazz quintet history.
Beautiful Things does not connote “beautiful jazz,” which is perhaps not what we’re looking for right now, but these interpretations from the Great American Songbook all have beauty as a common theme. That means Kenny Shanker and his quintet–guitarist Daisuke Abe, pianist Mike Eckroth, bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Brian Fishler, with guest appearances from legendary trumpeter Bill Mobley–can lay down a melody and really coax that beauty to the forefront.
Because this is jazz, played fairly straight, you won’t feel those same excursions into strangely emotional landscapes, but Kenny Shanker the arranger and composer is in charge, and that means you’re getting far more than a competent handling of well-worn classics such as Oscar Peterson’s “L’Impossible” and Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud.” Much of this centers around the purity of his tone, and his clear objectives. You’re in great hands with this crew, and you’ll be reminded why the American interpretations of jazz classics continue to be vital.