Kenny Shanker – Action City (2014)

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It’s fairly uncommon for a mainstream jazz record to contain nothing but originals, especially since playing standards seem nearly as important to jazz as being able to swing. Perhaps it’s because so few jazz musicians are strong enough composers to fill an entire album of their songs. That may or may not be the case, but it’s definitely not the case for saxophonist Kenny Shanker.

Shanker’s been playing the sax since he was ten years old, but he has a flair for writing tunes, too, confirmed by his ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award in 2003. So, it’s no surprise that the dozen tunes for his second album Action City (October 21, 2014 by Posi-Tone Records) are all his, and they’re all good.

With a solid base rhythm section of Brian Fishler (drums), Mike Eckroth (piano) and Yoshi Waki (bass), Shanker mixes things up with guest instrumentation from the guitar of Daisuke Abe, and also his own instrumentation: he plays both tenor and alto saxes with equal proficiency, depending on the tune. Shanker’s style sometimes evokes Joe Henderson, sometimes Kenny Garrett, sometimes Cannonball Adderley, but all with his own, refined twists to their styles. Eckroth gets plenty of solo time, too, proving himself to be a rather tasteful pianist (“Times Square” is one of several spotlights).

The Abe spots are well utilized; he harmonizes with Shanker’s alto on the Brazilian groove of “summer Siesta” and again on “Action City,” where the guitarists goes low and Shanker goes high. Shanker puts his tenor sax up against the guitar on “Marble Hill,” where the high-low roles are reversed.

Ultimately, it’s Shanker’s songs that make Action City a gratifying listen from start to finish; he avoids the sameness syndrome by varying the styles from smooth swings (“Times Square”, “Action City”), to breezy Brazilian flourishes (“Marble Hill, “Summer Siesta”), to searing bebop (“The Tortoise And The Hare”) to tender ballads (“Riverbank At Dawn”) to even pop shuffles (“Punch”, “Snow Paws”). Most of these songs contain interesting chord changes, usually at the bridge, a tipoff that Shanker is not your ordinary composer.

Choice songwriting and choice means of bringing them to life make Action City another strong offering from the talented Kenny Shanker.

Visit Kenny Shanker’s website for more information.

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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