Stan Killian, the Houston-born, New York-based saxophonist offers a stunning new CD with Unified, his new studio album from Sunnyside Records. On this album, Killian and his quartet are joined by special guests Roy Hargrove, Jeremy Pelt, and David Binney, all of whom add a brooding yet dynamic quality to the music. The songs on this album vividly depict the stylistic range of Killian’s playing, providing a broad swath of styles ranging from pensive and lyrical to grinding and percussive.
The album opens with “Twin Dark Mirrors,” one of Killian’s deeply compelling original compositions. The song begins with a somber, almost spiritual introduction, then breaks swiftly into a bright, straight-ahead melody featuring Roy Hargrove on trumpet. Killian’s solo on “Twin Dark Mirrors” demonstrates the young sax player’s intelligent compositional mind. His playing creates a perfect blend of styles that recall the full-bodied tone of Coleman Hawkins and the intimate riffs of Ben Webster. On “Elvin’s Sight,” Killian’s rhythm section lays down a funky, post-bop groove over which Killian’s calm and meditative melody floats like a thick cloud of smoke. “Unified,” the albums title track, evokes laid-back and relaxed feel that hums with coolness and finesse. The song is made even cooler with the addition of David Binney’s enchanting alto-sax lines. “Center,” a pulsing original song featuring Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, highlights the brilliant minimalism of Killian’s rhythm section. Drummer Mac Hunter provides a beautiful canvas on which bassist Corcoran Holt and pianist Benito Gonzalez are free to project their sparse yet vibrant coloration. “Isosceles” is a dizzying whirlwind of a tune, one whose unburdened harmonies allow Killian to showcase his stunning improvisational chops. “Window of Time” features a graceful, winding saxophone melody alongside a hip and compelling bass-line. The album winds down with “Eternal Return,” an intense and forceful tune comprising a sparse rhythmic groove and punchy melodic lines.
Killian offers a subtle and nuanced performance on Unified. The combination of his pensive improvisations and warm, resonant tone is the perfect match for the inviting melodies of his original tunes. His playing is smart but unpretentious, logical yet unrestrained. That kind of balance is hard to achieve in jazz, and we’ll be lucky if he can keep it up for his next album.
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