Multi-instrumentalist Brian Landrus continues to assert the low woodwinds’ vitality on his trio outing The Deep Below. Joined by bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Billy Hart, who previously backed Landrus on the 2011 quartet recording Traverse, Landrus displays formidable chops as both a composer (he wrote or co-wrote 11 of this album’s 14 tracks) and a virtuoso on baritone saxophone and three bass instruments: sax, clarinet and flute.
The music of The Deep Below is malleable, with endlessly complex colors. Landrus gives the Sinatra classic “I’m a Fool to Want You” a perceptive balladeer’s touch, then reframes Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” as a hurtling bari solo, barely glancing off the tune’s melodic line. On “Open Water” a bottom-scraping solo bass clarinet morbidly evokes churning currents, and the winsome “Just a Fading Memory” finds the instrument recorded with such tender clarity that Landrus’ fingering and inhalations are thrillingly audible. Currently a classical-composition PhD candidate at Rutgers, Landrus’ longhaired leanings are most vividly present on “Ancient,” one of two Landrus-Plaxico compositions; here, the wandering bass flute conjures images of arcane ruins and long-dead secrets. The album’s bass sax feature, “The Beginning,” finds Landrus navigating the big horn with the dexterity with which less-sturdy saxophonists handle a soprano.
Landrus’ bandmates match their leader’s rhythmic intricacy and aggression throughout. Hart’s polyrhythmic effusions zig when you expect them to zag, and his near-telepathic communication with Plaxico is mesmerizing, most notably in their multilayered harmonic interplay on the other Landrus-Plaxico original, “Fly.” The bassist’s fascinatingly fragmented sense of time shores up the exotic clenched-breath effect of “Fields of Zava,” and his sparsely thumped single notes and echoey arco groans galvanize the almost brutally intense “Once Again.” The Deep Below couldn’t be more aptly titled; this is music that aims for the gut, and hits hard.