Texas-born turned New York-based tenor saxophonist Stan Killian has recently released “Unified” on Sunnyside Records. Killian has composed all of the tunes here except one penned by pianist Benito Gonzalez. Gonzalez and Killian are the single constant pairing in the recording where they are joined by a host of talented musicians who make up the various combinations of his ensemble The two are joined by Corcoran Holt and Bryan Copeland on bass. Darrell Green and McClenty Hunter take turns on drums Roy Hargrove and Jeremy Pelt make appearances on trumpet. Lastly but certainly not least, David Binney plays alto saxophone.
The opening cut Twin Dark Mirrors features Roy Hargrove taking the first solo following the introduction and melody played by both horn players. Killian’s solo comes second, starting off slowly and gradually gaining momentum. Killian’s tone has been compared with the legendary “Texas Tenor” sound and descriptors such as “muscular” and “big-toned” have been used by others as well. His tone is full on this opening cut, yet not overly bold. He leaves space for Hargrove’s trumpet rather than commanding the ear pay attention to only him.
The Latin-tinged Elvin’s Sight finds Killian joined by alto saxophonist David Binney. Binney displays his remarkable technique on the alto, which is then countered by Killian’s own flowing tenor lines. Benito Gonzalez confidently attacks the piano while drummer Darrell Green lays down a robust Afro-Cuban groove with bassist Bryan Copeland. The fade out reveals the breathy subtones of both Killian and Binney right up until the final sound is heard.
The title cut Unified is very subtle in nature. Binney and Killian state the sweet yet straining melody then lead into an improvised conversation between the two saxophones. It seems as though Binney and Killian are quite familiar and sensitive to one another’s musical space as they furiously push on with cascading lines. The song tapers off just as it began with Binney and Killian sharing the spotlight on alto and tenor.
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt solos first on the 5/4-based upbeat Center. Pelt creates a solo, which flows beautifully over the odd time – never sounding contrived. As with Pelt’s solo, Killian and Gonzalez weave through the 5/4 solo sections as though it were just another medium swing tune in conventional form. The last minute and a half of the pulsating Center features some very captivating improvisational interplay from the entire ensemble eventually fading to nothing.
The melodic repetition of Isosceles initially sounds as though the record may be skipping, but it quickly modulates to reveal the truth. Almost without warning, Stan Killian launches into a ferocious solo at a very ambitious tempo. He quickly reveals that he can play tempos others may not attempt. Roy Hargrove returns on trumpet to solo following Killian and Gonzalez solos rhythmically first and then launches into an enviable barrage of runs up and down the keys. Darrell Green has the final solo spot on the drums before the ensemble returns to the melody and some impressive dynamics within.
Window of Time once again features Binney on alto and his blistering runs joining Killian’s tenor. Green also has a chance to stretch a bit on the drums prior to another trading sparring session between Killian and Binney.
The final cut, Eternal Return sees the return of Pelt on trumpet alongside Killian’s tenor. The solo order is Killian, Pelt and then Gonzalez. As done so well before, Killian allows ample room to trade between the soloists. This time it is Pelt who deftly spars with Killian before the final chorus.
Stan Killian has a wonderful, full and strong tenor saxophone voice. However, I can’t say that I hear the “Texas Tenor” sound on “Unified” more than I hear the influence of Trane, Mobley, Griffin, Getz or a host of others.
It is clear that Stan Killian has a unique voice in a jazz economy filled with wannabes, copycats and frankly lesser players. Killian displays technique, sound and sensibilities that only a player with a diverse array of experiences could possess. His experiences on the path which took him through Texas to the Mid-Atlantic and ultimately New York City have most likely contributed to his identifiable voice on tenor saxophone.
You can find out more about Stan Killian and Sunnyside Records at http://stankillian.com/