Stan Killian is reminiscent of Jimmy Heath in that his compositions and tenor saxophone work make each other better, and reflect a stubbornly abstruse but still amiable sensibility. He’s a mainstream postbopper but favors layered riffs that don’t necessarily interlock in his tunes; his swing can be restless, and have a little hitch in its gait. And he enjoys the modal form.
On Evoke, Killian eschews the high-powered guest stars (Roy Hargrove, David Binney, Jeremy Pelt) from his 2011 Sunnyside debut, Unified, and relies on the quintet that workshops his tunes every week at the 55 Bar in New York. That familiarity deepens the virtues, especially the somewhat quirky angularity, of his compositional style, while providing fewer solo highlights. It’s a solid band—drummer McClenty Hunter, bassist Corcoran Holt and pianist Benito Gonzalez return from Unified, and guitarist Mike Moreno has a notable résumé and a low, liquid tone that calls to mind John Scofield. But the players are mostly in service to the tunes, with Hunter the most notable colorist aside from Killian.
Not surprisingly, then, the songcraft seems top-notch. The opener, “Subterranean Melody,” makes arresting use of a 7/4 pulse that surges forth from Killian’s tenor as the rhythm section steadily ups the intensity. “Beekman33” moves with the sort of confident glide that became a hallmark of deeper cuts on albums released during Blue Note’s golden era. And “Hindu” is an effectively itchy pastiche, enlivened by noteworthy solos from Hunter, with Gonzalez unearthing his Latin roots.