Stan Killian – Unified (2011)

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photos: Kat Kojic

Stan Killian’s Unified is an attractive album right from the first listen. Actually, even before that first listen. Checking out the names of horn players playing alongside Killian listed on the back cover of the CD case, I saw there was already a recipe for success: Dave Binney (alto sax), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) and Roy Hargrove (trumpet). But upon taking in this album, it became appealing for another reason, a reason I couldn’t nail down until I read these words my Killian himself: “…instead of being concerned with composing intellectually difficult music for my band for the sake of being hip, I sought simply to write the most beautiful melodies I could imagine.” That’s right, it’s the melodies, stupid!

The songs, nearly all clocking in at the 6-8 minute range, seem to move along much quicker than that. This is what good and snappy melodies will do for the listening experience. Each of the seven songs has its own distinct character, flowing along a common thread of soulfulness and intelligent progression. It’s there on the cool strut of “Twin Dark Mirrors,” which begins with a spiritual intro akin to “A Love Supreme.” Even “Eternal Return,” which is the first song Killian has composed, is a fully formed tune faithful to the hard bop 60s golden era. I also dig the catlike moves of “Center,” (see video of live performance below) where bassist Corcoran Holt’s lines keep the song light on its feet.

Killian also stated another goal for this record: “I wanted to unite my seemingly disparate influences into a program of what my idea of modern jazz is: the feel of deep swing with combined melodic voices, informed by the various jazz languages.” That unity of styles become most evident on songs like “Elvin’s Sight,” the only non-Killian song (composed by his Venezuelan pianist, Benito Gonzalez), where Elvin Jones’ patented Latin polyrhythm as reproduced by Darrell Green swings like mad and even as both Killian and Binney are improvising simultaneously, the song never comes close to losing it; that’s unity. Binney joins Killian again on the title track, a beautiful tone poem that recalls Wayne Shorter’s softer harmonies during his classic Blue Note days.

Don’t be misled by the pretty harmonics, though; there’s fine playing done on this record. Texas-born Killian takes Sonny Rollins’ fluid approach, bulks it up and adds just a touch of that Texas tenor twang to it. He mixed and matched his personnel judiciously on this record, and paired himself up with only one of the three star horn players at a time. The hurried pace of the bop burner “Isosceles” offers the opportunity for Killian to show off his big chops, and going up against a major figure like Hargrove, he proves that he belongs in that kind of company. Binney did great in sparring with Killian on the aforementioned “Elvin’s Sight,” but also puts forth a blazing solo in the middle of “Window Of Time.” Pelt, who I see as the next Roy Hargrove, brings more sting to his trumpet than Hargrove, and blows a sharp, sassy solo on “Eternal Return” that backs up my assertion. McClenty Hunter, an up and coming drummer we introduced on this site just a week ago, adds much swing and pop to that ending number.

As Killian’s third album, but the first on about eight or nine years, Unified presents him as a fully formed talent who has every right to be performing with the likes of Hargrove, Binney and Pelt. But his flair for compositions that sound good on their own makes this an uncommonly strong record from both aspects: performance and melody. Stan Killian had a plan for this record and he executed it to perfection.

Unified went on sale May 3, by Sunnyside Records. Visit Stan Killian’s website.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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