Saxophone player Sean Khan has been a regular fixture on the London jazz scene since the 1990s, as previously a member of SK Radicals, a broken beat/nu jazz outfit that released numerous albums and singles on People and Freestyle Records. But here, Khan releases his second solo album, Muriel, an ode to his mother who recently passed away with what is mainly a return to his more traditional jazz roots – but with a twist.
This 12-track set comprises of nine original compositions created by his four-piece band of sax, piano/keys, drums and upright bass, plus the inclusion of three previously released 12” single remixes. Starting with the original cuts, five of these are instrumentals, including ‘Tranes Shadow’, a discerning musical poem to Khan’s musical hero Coltrane, with its time signature changes and brisk saxophone and piano solos, and ‘Dance For Little Emily’, an infectious and melodic piece with the sax and piano sections working well together. ‘Murial’ is obviously a more contemplative number, with its fluid sax runs, effortless Fender Rhodes meanderings and steady rhythm section.
Three tracks have full vocal recordings, including ‘Things To Say’ with the soulful Diana Martinez, ‘Sister Soul’ featuring the graceful Sabrina Malheiros from Brazil and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ with London legend Omar, which was an obvious single choice for the project. The addition of the vocal tracks does propel this set outside of the conventional jazz boundaries and will help it appeal to a broader audience, but yet, still fulfill the needs of regular jazz listeners.
As mentioned, three remixes are also added to the album, including 4Hero’s remix of ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down’ by Marc Mac with his infectious samba influenced mix, Ben Hauke’s choppy remix of ‘Things to Say’, which replaced most of the original instrumentation for some supplementary electronic textures, and finally, the ‘Samba For Florence’ remix by Henry Wu, with its rimshot friendly drum pattern and jumpy synth chords.
This is an album that is difficult to dislike. Straight jazz fans get their fill of excellent jazz musicianship, yet listeners of a more contemporary outlook will enjoy the vocal tracks and remixes. Thus, the album does display Sean Khan’s versatility as a jazz musician and composer and will hopefully lead to more opportunities for this group to perform live. And again, Joe Davis’s Far Out Records has pitched the album perfectly to satisfy both creative and economic needs.
This is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises and, from a label that prides itself on quality Brazilian music old and new, a new avenue to explore. Multi-reedist Sean Khan seems to have soaked up some of the all-time great saxophonists in an acoustic setting with Roland Kirk and Sonny Rollins an obvious influence, yet equally has listened to a good deal of music from the 1970s and here the influence of Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Liston Smith immediately springs to mind. The combination of these styles is a winning formula and this may just end up as a late contender for one of the year’s best new jazz recordings because both the quality of the compositions and the performances are well and truly exemplary. Starting off matters on a high is the title track with its wordless vocals and overall breezy Brazilian feel, and this piece features Khan on flute. Elsewhere, a contender for best vocal number is the soulful opener, ‘Things to say’, that has Diana Martinez on lead vocals, though others might argue that the larger horn ensemble song, ‘Samba para Florence’ with Heidi Vogel of Cinematic Orchestra fame on lead is just as strong. For fans of deeper jazz grooves, there is a real treat in store with heavy saxophone and mellow fender rhodes in tandem on the provocatively titled, ‘What has jazz become?’ Meanwhile, there are no less than two tribute pieces. The first is devoted to titan saxophone player John Coltrane on ‘Trane’s shadow’ and this instrumental has some lovely Latin piano vamps and drum solo. However, the second is an acoustic straight ahead interpretation on ‘Fire within’ that is a moving homage to French film director, the late Louis Malle, who regularly championed jazz in his soundtracks, with ‘Life to the Scaffold’ featuring Miles Davis and ‘Lacombe Lucien’ with Stéphane Grappelli being particularly noteworthy. Soul singer Omar guests on ‘Don’t let the sun go down’. What really impresses here is that while the music is at once accessible and lyrical, it is far removed from the unchallenging smooth jazz format and Khan takes chances throughout. As a bonus on the CD version, there are three remixes aimed at club land and DJs.