Brian Landrus Trio

The Deep Below
(BlueLand/Palmetto)

The album’s title, The Deep Below, plays off Brian Landrus’ focus on low-register wind instruments — baritone and bass saxophones, bass clarinet and bass flute. It could just as well reflect the great depth and sensitivity with which he plays each one. The same can be said for his trio’s performance as a whole on this fine record.

It certainly helps that Landrus’ trio mates are legendary drummer Billy Hart and veteran bassist Lonnie Plaxico, who provide a relaxed precision beneath Landrus’ rich melodicism. While the bari sax is often associated with a burly, bruising sound, there’s a mellowness in Landrus’ tone that allows the melodic beauty of pieces such as “Fly” and “I’m a Fool to Want You” to shine through. He even gives the ultra-deep bass sax a romantic sheen on “The Beginning,” so much so that when Landrus occasionally hits the lowest notes, it feels like a quick jab to the chest.

Landrus’ compositions tend toward the lyrical and melancholy. “Will She Ever Know?” and “Fields of Zava,” on which he plays bass flute and bass clarinet, respectively, offer plenty of stark beauty. On the other hand, Landrus shows he can deliver compelling modernist harmonies and rhythms on the mid-tempo pieces “Orebro Treaty” and “ The Age.” What’s more, he avoids overindulgence — the 14 pieces clock in at under an hour.

Landrus sprinkles three standards among his originals, each of which allows him to showcase different sides of his musical personality. He’s elegant and graceful on Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” while an unaccompanied take on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is a full-on sprint, an abstract interpretation that maintains its internal focus.

Not many musicians play these low-end instruments exclusively. Landrus shows just how beautiful the deep end can be. —John Frederick Moore

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