Kenny Shanker, Vortex Review
Kenny Shanker has released his latest jazz album featuring an exciting collection of original compositions and jazz standards performed by a responsive ensemble for his third release on Wise Cat Records called Vortex. Shanker is an award-winning composer, saxophonist, pianist, vocalist, and label owner. On Posi-Tone Records, he put out his first album, Steppin’ Up, in 2011 and Action City in 2014. However, for his third release, Shanker started his own label called Wise Cat Records. For his third Wise Cat Records release, Vortex, Shanker is joined by his longtime rhythm section of Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass, and Brian Fishler on drums with Bill Mobley on trumpet on three tracks.
Vortex is ten selections that cover a wide range of styles, tempos, and ensemble colors. The opening track is a modern jazz-oriented Shanker original with a straight-eight feel and driving solos of expressions that coalesce in pleasing sonic textures. Eckroth, Shanker, and Abe display a melodic modern jazz aptitude paved with a deep groove from Waki and Fishler. The rich heritage of hard bop/ post-bop is an influence that is constantly present, being particularly noticeable on “Hunter,” a progressive composition in which Shanker performs an invigorating solo. Shanker’s inclusion of “The Duke” and “Autumn Leaves” allow the jazz aficionado to savor his approaches to the standard repertoire and their well-known harmonic devices. He does not disappoint; his soloing in both selections is grounded in the tradition without falling back on licks or cliches; instead, he pushes forward to find new expressive patterns shaped by the past and the present. In addition, Shanker keeps a playful, blues-inflected overtone throughout the album, blending right into the program to create an asymmetric tapestry of modern jazz with feeling and a broad melodic appeal. That’s the short of it!