Kenny Shanker, Beautiful Things Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Kenny Shanker is a saxophonist, composer, and label owner that released a new exciting program of original compositions and jazz standards for his second release on Wise Cat Records called Beautiful Things. The common element that appears throughout this diverse set is a search for beauty in various forms. Shanker is joined by his longtime rhythm section of Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass, Brian Fishler on drums, and trumpet Bill Mobley appearing on three selections.
The opening song, “Cool Mint,” is a Shanker original inspired by the early bebop recordings he listened to growing up. “Cool Mint” is centralized by a catchy melody and spirited straight-eight feel. Shankar and Abe blend beautifully while presenting the theme over Eckroth’s rhythmic figure. Shankar’s saxophone solo digs into the hip chord changes as the band switches to a relaxed swing feel. Echroth’s solo is melodic and comfortably builds the song’s charm. Abe rounds out the solos with a tasteful combination of motif development and active flurries of notes. Shanker’s composition is excellent in its balance of modern and traditional harmonic structures and progression. This also allows the soloist to express the same language in their solo, resulting in an enjoyable listen rooted in the jazz tradition while still pushing forward.
Of the straight-ahead jazz classics on the project, “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” stands out as a fiery representation of Shanker’s improvising prowess and ability to create a space of modern angles with the traditional rhythmic feel and melodic precision. The swing of the rhythm section is grounded in a pulse that Shanker burrows into as a central focus of his powerful phrasing. His jazz language is filled with post-bop harmonic devices of upper structure triads, pentatonics, and chordal superimpositions. Both Echroth and Abe spin out fine solos, too, as the ensemble works as a team to build both to satisfying conclusions. Fishler’s drumming is conversation and active throughout this selection and pairs well with Waki’s steadily timed bass lines.
Beautiful Things has a beautiful balance of feels, styles, and intensities through a flowing set of originals and arrangements of standards. Shankar’s compositions are memorable, and throughout the album, there is plenty of space for the soloists. The album boasts an inventive and imaginative set presented by an ensemble that exudes authority and refinement from the jazz landscape.