It can be a challenge to combine jazz with strings. Danger lurks just around the corner in the form of saccharine arrangements that can neutralize the edginess of even the best players. But that threat never becomes a reality on Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope’s wonderful, and highly accessible new CD, “Mirage.” This is because the string arrangements manage to stay fresh throughout the album.
While Landrus, who plays baritone saxophone, bass saxophone, bass clarinet, contra alto clarinet, and bass flute, is obviously a low reed wizard, he is an equal threat in the areas of composing and arranging, having written and scored all 12 of the album’s tracks. The strings might be employed in an ethereal manner on a cut like “A New Day” or as a percussive accent on the wonderfully catchy “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” And the tunes vary from the reggae-tinged “I’ve Been Told” to the R&B flavored “Three Words.”
Top young jazz orchestra leader Ryan Truesdell (known for his recent, award-winning Gil Evans Project) conducted the whole ensemble which features Nir Felder on guitar, Frank Carlberg on keyboards, Lonnie Plaxico on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums. The string quartet that adds so much includes Mark Feldman and Joyce Hammann on violins, Judith Insell on viola, and Jody Redhage on cello.
Every time Landrus takes off on one of his deep, low-register solos, he slithers around the melody like a giant python. But he’s not the only excellent soloist here. While the string quartet can most often be heard playing interludes, doubling sax lines or supplying counterpoint, Feldman also takes a bold, highly abstract solo on “Jade.”