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Kenny Shanker: Steppin’ Up

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Don’t be fooled by the pleasant opener “Winter Rain,” which is benign and strictly radio-friendly. Alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker abruptly shifts gears on the next tune, “Fifth and Berry,” and burns with boppish abandon alongside guitarist Lage Lund and pianist Art Hirahara, both of whom turn in sizzling solos. Those tunes represent the two extremes of Shanker’s first album as a leader. He straddles both sides of that musical fence on “Quirk,” with its fervent blowing section bookended by a hooky motif. His more aggressively swinging side is represented by “E.J.” and “Saints,” two cuts featuring stellar solos from the leader, pianist Hirahara and guitarist Lund, a gifted six-stringer in a post-Metheny vein. Shanker strikes a more lyrical pose on the waltz-time “Home Sweet Home,” the restful ballad “Sarah” and a sublime reading of Leonard Bernstein’s moving anthem “Somewhere.”