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JC Sanford Quartet: Keratoconus (Shifting Paradigm)

A review of the trombonist-led quartet's first album

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JC Sanford Quartet, Keratoconus
The cover of Keratoconus by the JC Sanford Quartet

The title track of Keratoconus hits the ground running. Named for a chronic eye disease from which leader/trombonist JC Sanford suffers, the 93-second piece combines a spy-surf accompaniment and rhythmically tense horn melody. Sanford’s ’bone has a dirty tone and guitarist Zacc Harris kicks on some effects at one point that approximate a ring modulator. But the overt aggression ends with that song, followed by moods ranging from lush to humorous, with varied results.

Sanford, who studied with Bob Brookmeyer and has worked in New York on projects with John Hollenbeck and his own group Triocracy and the JC Sanford Orchestra, formed the quartet after relocating to his home state of Minnesota in 2016. The brother team of Chris and JT Bates handle bass and drums, respectively; Chris’ bowing gets an early showcase in the ballad “Umm, Yeah,” under Harris’ clean picking. A version of “All the Things You Are” slyly dispenses with the theme, preferring to focus on the leader’s gift for spontaneous melody.

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Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at