Music Review: Brian Landrus’ “For Now”

Written by on June 12, 2020

Photo by Gulara Khamatora

Low reed specialist and multi-instrumentalist jazz musician and composer Brian Landrus took a difficult period in his life and used that adversity to inspire a melodically passionate declaration in song on his new release For Now (BlueLand Records, 2020). Taking advice from the late legendary jazz valve trombonist, composer, and educator Bob Brookmeyer, “book a recording session before you have the music composed – then you have a goal.”  Under weighty “unnecessary drama” in his personal life, Landrus chose to follow his muse, reserve a recording session, and follow Brookmeyer’s suggestion to simply focus and “put pencil to paper.”

Alternating between the baritone saxophone and the bass clarinet, Landrus creates wonderful lower-range tones and compositional directions with an instrument often overshadowed by the tenor or soprano saxophone. On “For Now,” offering ten original compositions plus three jazz standards, Landrus creates time for slower romantic dreamscapes and elegant love ballads that develop at a beautiful pace, lingering with the melody and interplay. Complimented by “a perfect team” of collaborators, his quartet also includes particular brilliance from renowned jazz pianist, composer, and NEC educator, Fred Hersch. Contributing additional instrumental chemistry and superb rhythm are Drew Gress (bass) and Billy Hart (drums).

Also contributing richness to the harmonies is the addition of an elegant string quartet with significant young talent: Michael Rodriquez (trumpet), Sara Caswell (violin), Joyce Hamman (violin), Lois Martin (viola) and Jody Redhage-Ferber (cello), with arrangements by Landrus and the distinguished opera composer Robert Aldridge.

As Landrus kept working on the musical compositions for this release, he began hearing the internal need for “strings” to fulfill and expand the quartet. With particular poignancy on “Clarity In Time,” “Invitation” and “For Whom I Imagined,” the string quartet delivers the results – “the harmonies I was hearing” as Landrus explains.

Taking inspiration from Lester Young and Miles Davis, Landrus also used the technique of constructing the song based on lyrics. The deep feeling found on the remake of Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear” and the original composition “The Second Time” give examples of where Landrus uses the richness of the lower register tone of the baritone saxophone, and with particular emphasis, the bass clarinet, to “follow the arch of the words – to process and get to the melody.”

Landrus also credits Hersch as his co-collaborator, muse, and genius, creating “incredible atmosphere as he gets inside the song.” In addition, a superb percussionist, drummer, and close friend, Billy Hart brought exemplary chops but also, as importantly, the instinct to explore on every take in the studio, driving other band members to take chances.

During the inspiration and evolution of “For Now” Landrus found himself again reflecting back on his key mentor and teacher at the New England Conservatory, Bob Brookmeyer, and the experience at NEC “that completely changed my life.” Fighting a tumultuous time personally, Landrus “put pencil to paper” as his mentor had recommended. The results of that focus are individual emotions in melody, composition, and arrangement that range in beauty and elegance while making a personal statement.

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