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June 1998

Lan Xang
Lan Xang
Mythology Records

Some of the most adventurous, refreshing and intelligent music in jazz today is being written by people who don't wear suits to the gig. Here is yet another example. A kind of experimental lab band, Lan Xang provides its members with a composing and stretching vehicle apart from their regular gigs-bassist Scott Colley in the Jim Hall trio, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, alto saxophonist Dave Binney with his avant funk-fusion band Lost Tribe and with the Cecil McBee quintet, and ultra-sensitive drummer Jeff Hirshfield with a list of sideman gigs as long as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The saxes strike a gorgeous blend throughout this free spirited project with Binney tending to favor contrapuntal mingling between alto and tenor, as on his "Day Of Fear, Night Of Truth" and his chorale-like "Vevasis," both extensions of his excellent and overlooked Audioquest recording, The Luxury Of Guessing. His "Tango, Waltz & Variations on..." and "A Hundred Kings," both chock-full of moving harmonies and challenging stop-time passages, sound like acoustic versions of Binney's writing for the electric Lost Tribe ensemble. Bassist Colley, a prolific composer in his own right (check out his recent debut as a leader on Freelance, Portable Universe, which also features Binney, McCaslin and Hirshfield) contributes the stirring dirge "Far Rockaway," at once brooding and graceful. McCaslin shows a more playful sensibility on his urgently burning "Rob Petry," which is hinged on a tricky Bird-like head and ultimately gives each of the individuals an extended solo taste. McCaslin screams with abandon on his heavy-duty "Grunge Factor," a tune which manages to combine the influences of Dewey Redman and Led Zeppelin. Hirshfield, who shifts gears from a fragile Paul Motian-esque rubato touch to insistent ride cymbal swinging throughout this highly interactive project, demonstrates his loose, New Orleans streetbeat flair on McCaslin's "2nd Line Sally."

Rather than recreating old Blue Note recordings, this band is pushing forward with its provocative vision. No attempt at radio play here. Hell, it ain't even available in stores. But this is definitely a gem worth digging for (mail order only, call
1-888-684-2968 or email to eenknee@ix.netcom.com).

Originally published in June 1998
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