With his Origin Records debut CD, Passages, saxophonist Scott Burns has delivered a masterpiece of ingeniously crafted and superbly performed originals. His appealing, intelligent compositions are the perfect showcase for his electrifying energy and sophisticated, sensuous sound. Joined by the Chicago dreamteam of pianist Ron Perrillo, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas, Scott Burns' Passages is one of the most impressive contemporary jazz albums of the year.
SCOTT BURNS IS HOT, YET LYRICAL
Scott Burns is the kind of brainy and gifted player that other players want to emulate. A well-educated, highly respected musician with a captivating sound, unique writing skills and dazzling facility, he is one of the top sax players on the scene. What separates him from a lot of other players with similar credentials is his unabashed soulfulness. Scott's music has passion. One of the few modern saxophonists who plays with both intellect and emotion, Scott Burns has found his own lyrical voice. In today's world of mega-chop players, it's refreshing to hear someone with tons of technique who plays withˇsorry if this isn't "hip"ˇfeeling. Scott has chops and intellect to spare, but they're part of the bigger picture. On Passages, he not only shows us his
musical IQ; he also succeeds in sharing his musical heart.
This is not to imply that Scott is anything less than "macho man" when the time is right. His playing on Passages is a provocative blend of the gentle and the fierce, the sweet and the extremely hot. His compositions flatter this "sweet/hot" combo to full advantage. He writes and arranges so that he and the band can soar, whisper, scream, embraceˇ and always in the context of thoughtful, intelligent musical choices, and always with a pulsating groove. Scott covers a wide range of musical emotions with power and tenderness, which is what makes this album so intriguing.
SCOTT BURNS AND THE DREAMTEAM
Harmonically, rhythmically and emotionally, it doesn't get much better than this. What a joy it is to hear the inspired mind-meld of these great players. The musical candor and camaraderie shared by Burns, Ron Perrillo, Dennis Carroll and George Fludas is what makes Passages such a creative success.
It's obvious that these guys have spent a lot of quality time together, and their synergistic rapport is evident throughout the recording. I was especially taken with the Burns/Perrillo connection. The affectionate musical relationship between Scott and Ron can be heard in every bar of every tune on the CD. Perrillo's jaw-dropping piano solos are only part of it; on each track, his interactive comping and background playing are just as awe-inspiring as his piano solos. Ron Perrillo is the best yet-to-be-discovered major jazz star on the planet. We in Chicago have known this all along, and his playing on Passages is just one more example.
Ron Perrillo has the uncanny ability to continually channel "piano stuff" from other dimensions, and is fully capable, at any time, of doing the unexpected and the impossible. On Passages he does so with intelligent soulfulness. At times I thought I was hearing hints of Horace Silver and Kenny Drew, Jr., all hotly Perrillo-flavored. Ron has an infinite amount of music to unleash, and on Passages, he knows just when and how to do
The brilliant George Fludas rocks the band in a cradle of electrifying time-feel on every tune. He invents so many amazing and innovative grooves, with such precision and imagination, that I found myself hitting "repeat" to hear them again and again. He makes all the right moves with and behind the band, and helps propel Scott's solos to dizzying heights. His ability to twist and turn the time while keeping it constantly brewing is just one of his many talents. The surprises he throws into the mix are astounding, and his various solos and trading throughout the tunes add to the overall wonderment of the album.
Super-smart and stalwart Dennis Carroll plays with the sensitivity and support for which he's become famous within his inner circle of friends. A bassist with an uncanny ear, he hears to the point of being scary. On Passages, he assumes a supportive role, and makes exciting things happen during Scott's and Ron's solos. With his great intonation and long, juicy low notes, Dennis is the backbone of the quartet.
SCOTT BURNS WRITES HITS
Scott Burns' compositions have nothing in common with the tedious, dry and academic originals that are typical of today's brooding jazz recordings. His writing is lyrical, uplifting and complex, full of contrasting dark and light moods. His arrangements include lots of unison piano/bass figures, jazz-funky grooves, searing melodic lines, colorful chords, and emotionally dictated dynamics. Alive with clever, catchy harmonies and rhythmic figures, Scott's tunes have the potential of becoming tomorrow's jazz classics.
THE SONGS AND PERFORMANCES ON PASSAGES
My personal favorite song on the CD is "Seascape." A lush and sensual contemporary jazz bossa, it starts with an ear-grabbing unison bass/piano figure, which repeats throughout the tune. Scott plays the haunting melody with dark intensity, and follows that with an introspective and heart-throbbing solo. Next is a quintessential Perrillo lighteningstrike into some flying but funky right-hand lines. His solo on this cut is spellbinding. It's as though he has taken the gospel feel of Les McCann and the glossy, intellectual attitude of Herbie Hancock, and re-invented a hybrid super-player. Towards the end of "Seascape," Fludas plays a brilliant, burning solo over the bass/piano figure that extends right up to the end of the song. "Seascape" is a natural for jazz-radio airplay, and I can see it popping up in the next Chuck Sher book and on lots of people's CDs.
The opening cut, "Lead the Way," is a clever original written over the changes of an old standard (which Ron politely quotes towards the end of the tune), and starts with a thrilling drum solo intro. This straight-ahead arrangement features Scott's style of spirited rhythmic writing, and gives the band ample opportunity to stretch out.
The song "Black Orchid" is haunting and mysterious. It features beautiful and melancholy solos by both Scott and Ron, played over the scintillating, one-of-a-kind feel that only Fludas could create for a nine-eight-ish ballad. Similarly, with its evocative sense of yearning, Scott's other warm and dreamy ballad, "Waiting," could be the soundtrack for a moody film noir movie.
Both "Downhill Stroll" and "Switchback" features inspired solos by Scott and Ron, driven by the ever-buoyant and blistering Fludas/Carroll time machine. George also plays a cool nuevo-Latin feel on the "Switchback" samba section. Like all the cuts on the CD, these two tunes illustrate Scott's proclivity for playing burning time within the framework of his innate soulfulness.
The tunes I found the most evocative and daring are "Storm Rising" and "Eddies in the Stream." Both originals feature the unique style of eclectic writing and arranging that have put a highly personal stamp on Scott's project. "Storm Rising" reminds me of "Stolen Moments" meets "The Work Song." With its Horace Silver-esque melody/harmony of fourths, and its opening choruses of repeated rhythmic figures, it has the makings of a jazz hit. The song eventually moves into a straight-ahead minor blues, and features magical interaction among the players. Once again, the mood is complimented by Scott's and Ron's high-energy funky playing, including Ron's signature right-hand rolling octaves with their intriguing, dissonant licks.
"Eddies in the Stream" starts with Dennis Carroll's hypnotically repetitive bass figures, which is the foundation of the tune. As the song progresses, the band gets into what I can only call a sort of surreal "jazz march" with strangely Asian/Scottish overtones, amidst some of the most exotic, fascinating writing I've ever heard. Over this dreamlike backdrop, Scott plays a series of haunting and ethereal melodic lines. After a "free section" of energetic joy-riding, the band settles back into that eerie march, punctuated by Scott's gorgeous opening solo line which continues to lilt over the constant groove of bass, piano, and percussion. With its unusual time signatures and erotic air of mystery, "Eddies in a Stream" is mesmerizing.