Lan Xang: Hidden Gardens

The name Lan Xang refers to the Laotian kingdom that lasted from the 14th to the 18th century, and whose emblem symbolized freedom-not an entirely accurate depiction of this quartet’s sound. While the four players that comprise Lan Xang-reedists Donny McCaslin and David Binney, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen-are all skilled improvisers, the composed sections of Hidden Gardens indicate the band is as much interested in chamber-jazz arrangements as it is in free-form soloing.

Nine compositions and six short improvised interludes make up Lan Xang’s second CD. The group traffics in quiet tension, as on “The Restless Many,” where altoist Binney double-times his solo before McCaslin joins on tenor at the rhythm section’s slower tempo, creating an off-kilter dynamic, and on the follow-up, “Trinity Place,” which begins with jumpy intervals before settling into an extended rubato.

While a solid, intelligent effort, Hidden Garden does suffer from a certain coolness. The album is informed by a chamber-jazz sensibility, but unfortunately ECM’s Manfred Eicher didn’t record Hidden Garden; he would be the perfect producer for Lax Xang.