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ICON Suggests: Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope, MIRAGE

...Mirage, an understated masterpiece of compelling tunes...

There’s a matter-of-fact dignity to the bass saxophone, a horn of magnificent size and heft that produces the lowest notes from a brass instrument, that makes for a comfortable fit for the six foot, seven inch saxophonist Brian Landrus. A prodigious writer and bandleader originally from Reno, Nevada, the saxophonist started playing tenor sax in his teens with the Coasters and the Drifters, two bands that schooled the young Landrus in R&B, soul and pop music styles. Back then, Landrus says that he often had his butt kicked nightly by the pros in those groups, but admits they gave him an irreplaceable education that informs much of his writing today.
One of his teachers and mentors, trombonist and bandleader Bob Brookmeyer, steered Landrus to the low reeds after listening to him on baritone and comparing his style to none other than Gerry Mulligan. His authority on baritone sax, bass clarinet and other like reed instruments will definitely strike a chord with listeners on performed by a riveting quintet of jazz musicians and a string section conducted by Ryan Truesdell.

Mirage sports a lucid, contemporary framework with a solid lineup of original tracks—Landrus taps a melodic vein that benefits from soulful improvising by ace guitarist Nir Felder and keyboardist Frank Carlberg. Sonically lush, Mirage mixes rapturous harmonics with contemplative tunes that clearly have emotional significance for Landrus. There’s an organic flow embodied in the sensitive “Someday” and the love song that is “Three Words.” The beautiful title track is full of good feeling, from its opening chorus of strings to a modern, low-slung groove anchored by Lonnie Plaxico and Rudy Royston. Carlberg gets a choice Fender Rhodes feature on “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” while the reggae-tinged “I’ve Been Told” and backbeat-driven “Jade” balance strings against Landrus’ horn to create a sound that’s not coincidentally reminiscent of early dates by Grover Washington, Jr.

The charts that Landrus wrote for Mirage treat strings (there are four credited players, led by violinist Mark Feldman) like a sixth instrument, which gives the leader another voice to interact with his horn and the rhythm section. While there are honorable swathes of R&B, soul and contemporary jazz folded into the mix, Landrus has an uncanny ability to weave serene and gorgeous jazz melodies together that make an ultimate connection directly to the heart of the listener. (12 tracks; 57 minutes)

On the afternoon of July 2, 2013 I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Brian Landrus and Ryan Truesdell, meeting with them at Joe Papp’s Public Theater prior to Brian’s sound check for his CD release performance of Mirage. To read more about our conversation about music, connections and Esperanza Spalding, visit my JazzInSpace blog.

This article is from the August 2013 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More Information.