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StepTempest on Kenny Shanker “Steppin Up!”…

Alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker has been involved with jazz since his early teens – he even toured Japan twice with the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Big Band. He makes his Posi-Tone Records debut with “Steppin’ Up” and, like the Patrick Cornelius release I reviewed a few weeks back (read here), Shanker builds the majority of his songs off of strong melodic lines.  He gets great support from the sparkling rhythm section of bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Brian Fishler.  Add to them the hard-edged piano of Art Hirahara plus energetic contributions from guitarist Lage Lund and the listener is rewarded time and again.  Listen to the short but lovely “Rhapsody” or the rollicking “E,J.“, 2 very different pieces yet both have excellent melodies – the latter piece is enlivened by the interplay of Fishler with the soloists.  Pianist Mike Eckroth replaces Hirahara on 3 cuts, including the hearty “Quirk“, the sweet ballad “Sarah”, and the lovely take on Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” that closes the CD (and is the only non-original in the program.)

Through it all, Shanker’s alto saxophone playing is impressive for the way he builds his solos, his warm tone and lively engagement with the band.  Lund matches warm tone as well as creating solos off the energy of his band mates.  Hirahara continues to impress as a sideman and soloist; in the former role, he does not just lay back but engages the soloist with fine chords and counterpoint while his own solos have an energy that reflects the influence of Bud Powell (my opinion) without being derivative of anyone in particular.

Thanks to the fact that my new job has me in the car 5 days a week, I have been listening to most of my music “on the road.”  “Steppin’ Up” sounds like great with the windows down driving the back roads, the music washing over me like a friendly rain storm.  Wherever you decide to listen to Kenny Shanker’s debut CD, you’ll enjoy the sonic ride.  For more information, go to