September 2000

Lan Xang
Hidden Gardens
Naxos of America

The name Lan Xang refers to the Laotian kingdom that lasted from the 14th to the 18th century, and whose emblem symbolized freedom-not an entirely accurate depiction of this quartet's sound. While the four players that comprise Lan Xang-reedists Donny McCaslin and David Binney, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen-are all skilled improvisers, the composed sections of Hidden Gardens indicate the band is as much interested in chamber-jazz arrangements as it is in free-form soloing.
Nine compositions and six short improvised interludes make up Lan Xang's second CD. The group traffics in quiet tension, as on "The Restless Many," where altoist Binney double-times his solo before McCaslin joins on tenor at the rhythm section's slower tempo, creating an off-kilter dynamic, and on the follow-up, "Trinity Place," which begins with jumpy intervals before settling into an extended rubato.
While a solid, intelligent effort, Hidden Garden does suffer from a certain coolness. The album is informed by a chamber-jazz sensibility, but unfortunately ECM's Manfred Eicher didn't record Hidden Garden; he would be the perfect producer for Lax Xang.

Originally published in September 2000

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