For those who love low woodwinds, Brian Landrus has become a steadfast champion. Few musicians this side of Harry Carney have specialized in bass clarinet and baritone saxophone. Fewer still can conceptualize and compose a diverse array of projects that provide those instruments with challenging yet hospitable environments.
Landrus’ last three albums have featured a trio, a 25-piece orchestra, and a quartet frequently buttressed by trumpeter and string section. Red List contains a core septet of noteworthy personnel with rotating eighth members added on the majority of the 15 Landrus originals. (The impetus behind the music is to bring greater awareness to endangered species, hopefully to prevent their extinction.)
Landrus can be a spectacular player, but the greater reward is hearing how his low woodwinds function as a compass for his arrangements. That said, plenty of down-low splendor is spread around too. “Giant Panda” and “Mariana Dove” are both unaccompanied bass clarinet solos and “Only Eight” is a showcase for Lonnie Plaxico’s upright bass. The second consistent horn in the band is Ryan Keberle’s trombone.
Meanwhile, the endangered species subtext is more embedded than grafted to the music. “Nocturnal Flight” opens placidly with Nir Felder’s moody guitar and Geoff Keezer’s acoustic piano dotted with chiming percussion, then stirs with the horns ululating in unison, their heft and syncopation like the coordinated wingspan of a large flock. And the Jamaican-styled dub groove nails the oddly majestic sway of the title characters in “Save the Elephants,” before Landrus flips the script on bass clarinet.
Red List has integrity in its compositional structure, its high-level personnel, its accessibility to groove merchants as well as those who revel in solo bonfires. It is inspired by (and helps fund) a worthy cause. And did we mention the siren call of that low woodwinds buzz?