Brian Settles Trio – Folk (2013)

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Just a couple of years ago, D.C.-area tenor sax maestro Brian Settles put forth his first album as a leader, Secret Handshake, a quietly probing record that ignored boundaries between mainstream jazz and avant garde. Folk continues in that way, but with the Central Union quintet reduced to the Brian Settles Trio, retaining his rhythm section of Corcoran Holt (acoustic bass) and Jeremy Carlstedt (drums).

With only a two-man rhythm section behind him, Settles’ saxophone becomes more pronounced, and it’s easier to take notice of his no-nonsense tone and delivery, a Rollins-like character that’s neither too meek nor too brash. Settles will always tend toward playing the right notes and away from playing too many notes. His full tone and allegiance to the melody is how his economic style works in such a stripped down setting.

Setttles’ measured approach serves him well time and again, especially on numbers like “Sipho” which commences as a ballas, then transits into a bebop cadence. Settles is responds by playing his notes economically, referring to stretch them out and make each one mean more. His straight up style adds grace to the uneasy waltz “Rivers” and flows beautifully on the wandering “Understanding.”

Even on a swift-tempo’d number such as “Soldierly,” Settles is choosy as to when to reel off tightly clustered notes; there are lots of instances where he draws out notes and leaves spaces as Holt and Carlstedt ramble along freely. Settles is the anchor on the abstract “Passing Landscape,” enabling Carlstedt to do all the improvising.

The help he gets from his companions is of the complementary kind. Carlstedt solos while keeping time on “Rivers.” “Efflorescence” is an Eastern European folk melody, but powered by explosive drums and Holt’s actively walking bass. “Orbit” is the groove track of this bunch but it’s an organic one, with Holt and Carlstedt driving it all the way while Settles largely stays on the sidelines.

The second, stripped down effort by Brian Settles confirms his leadership abilities and the exceptional rapport among these three. Here’s a cat who without much fanfare is making jazz the way it used to be made all the time: with real emotion and synergy.

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Folk went on sale November 12, by Engine Studios. s

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,, 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
S. Victor Aaron

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