Were Walt Whitman still with us, he might’ve been a fan of Brian Landrus. This low-reed specialist doesn’t take to free verse or explore risqué matters in his writing, but he definitely contains multitudes. Landrus works with instruments of extreme weight, yet there’s a lightness in his lines; every time he finds solid footing within a given format, he lets go of it to explore different terrain; and his music is marked by strong emotional dichotomies—strength and sensitivity, fortitude and heartache, quest and surrender. Rather than trying to erase these contradictions, Landrus embraces them, making his work all the more honest and complete.
For Now, the multi-reedist’s 10th album, is a departure from both the weighted and wondrous trio adventures of 2015’s The Deep Below and the large-scale productions on 2017’s Generations. Focusing his attention on the quartet format, and expanding and contracting from there, Landrus finds his way through settings both sedate and scintillating. The core band includes pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Billy Hart—plus occasional drop-ins from trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and the artful use of a string quartet—so everything is first-class.
With baritone saxophone in hand, Landrus surfs swinging currents through “The Signs,” waltzes in step and style across “The Miss,” and engages in a spellbinding after-hours duologue with Hersch on Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.” Wielding an alto flute on “The Night of Change,” he adopts an attractive glow-and-flow aesthetic. Both instruments speak to their full potential in Landrus’ hands, but it’s his bass clarinet that makes the deepest impression. When he picks up that horn to summon the spirits on a solo rendition of Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” the results are breathtaking.