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Bruce Lindsay reviews “Action City” for All About Jazz….



Saxophonist Kenny Shanker was eight years post-graduation before recording his debut album, Steppin’ Up, which took another two years to get its 2011 release on Posi-tone records. So admirers of the New York based musician could be forgiven for not expecting album number two quite so soon. But here it is,Action City: released just 17 months after it was recorded and readily fulfilling the promise of the debut.

Just what kind of action does Shanker find in Action City? It’s varied. “Times Square” is cool, hip, confident: action with style, reflected in Shanker’s equally cool alto. The gently-swinging “Another Morning”—the band in a relaxed and relaxing groove—might just represent the low-key, coffee and orange juice, action that results from too much excitement the night before. “Midnight” is in a similarly gentle vein, as is the sweet “Riverbank At Dawn,” while the action on “The Tortoise And The Hare” is race-track tense, the up-tempo sections showcasing Shanker and pianist Mike Eckroth‘s talent at fleet-fingered be-bop.

The quintet’s remaining members—including Eckroth, bassist Yoshi Waki and drummerBrian Fishler from Steppin’ Up—are solidly in tune with Shanker’s playing and writing. Eckroth is almost as prominent as Shanker in terms of lead roles—his solos on “Shadow Dance” and “Midnight” are fine examples of fluid, melodic, playing. Daisuke Abe‘s guitar is relatively under-used, but always pertinent: it would have been great to hear more of this considered player. 

Shanker’s guest musicians add further variation without ever swamping the sound of the core quintet. Matt Blostein‘s glockenspiel gives a twinkle to the otherwise melancholy “Punch”—which is also enhanced by Waki’s bass solo. Percussionist Daniel “Conga” Valdez gives “Marble Hill” a sassy bravado: Maximo Vasquez joins Fishler to give further drive to the rhythm of the graceful “Snow Paws.”

The decision to fill the album with Shanker’s original compositions, rather than mix in a few songbook standards, works well. He’s a strong writer, the tunes are in the straight-ahead tradition but with a freshness and a contemporary edge. Action City moves things on from Shanker’s debut, offering further proof of his development as an artist and writer. YouTube provides evidence of Shanker the vocalist too—something extra for album number three?

Track Listing: Times Square; Another Morning; Summer Siesta; Action City; Punch; Prelude; Shadow Dance; Midnight; Marble Hill; The Tortoise And The Hare; Riverbank At Dawn; Snow Paws.

Personnel: Kenny Shanker: alto saxophone; Mike Eckroth: piano; Daisuke Abe: guitar; Yoshi Waki: bass; Brian Fishler: drums; Peyman Samghabadi: trombone (1); Matt Blostein: glockenspiel (5); Daniel “Conga” Valdez: percussion (2, 3, 9, 11); Maximo Vasquez: percussion (3, 12).


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SomethingElse Reviews Kenny Shanker “Action City”…






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……


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

– Victor Aaron

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Lucid Culture reviews Kenny Shanker “Action City”….



Saxophonist Kenny Shanker Nails an Edgy NYC Vibe

Lots of vivid, frequently edgy, tuneful straight-up New York portraiture on alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker‘s new Posi-Tone album Action City – streaming at Spotify – with Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 29 at 8 PM at the brand new Room 53, 314 W 53rd St. between 8th and 9th Aves.

Everything here centers around a tight piano/sax/bass/drums pulse. The first tune, Times Square is an interesting one – it seems to offer some shelter from the bustling rush hour crowd outside, Eckroth spinning an intricately enticing web away from the driving latin groove until Shanker brings it back with a similarly swirling but more angst-fueled intensity. It paints a good picture, albeit without the sketchy life-size Hello Kittys.

Another Morning is all about urbane chillout swing, Shanker’s carefree vibrato sailing over Eckroth’s precise, purposeful chords and spacious tradeoffs with the drums. This seems to portray the kind of stainless steel counter place where they break out the martinis starting at around noon.

Summer Siesta is a deliciously catchy, biting cha-cha, and not the least bit sleepy. The title track is a brisk stroll, everybody in the band occasionally stepping out of time as we do from time to time on a busy sidewalk: Eckroth’s bluesy, stride-inspired solo is especially choice. Punch isn’t the smackdown you might expect, but a very attractive slow soul groove, Eckroth firing off some tasty blues/gospel licks. Donald Fagen would kill to have written this.

Eckroth stays in the spotlight through the spacious, stately, neoromantically marching Prelude, which gives way to Shadow Dance, a cool jazz waltz where the sax does exactly that to the piano. The most striking track here is Midnight, crescendoing on the wings of some blue-flame eights from Shanker until Eckroth takes it back into the back of the bar where everybody’s still hanging after closing time. Marble Hill offers a no-nonsense but warmly congenial, nocturnal North Bronx tableau – it would have made a good nostalgic tv theme back in the 70s. Tortoise & the Hare scampers along as Shanker and Abe flurry and bob, a contrast with the balmy boudoir ballad Riverbank at Dawn: hey, outdoors is cooler in the summer. Interestingly, Shanker winds up the album with a catchy, dynamically-charged Philly soul groove titled Snow Paws. You don’t have to be a New Yorker (Shanker’s not) to appreciate this. But it helps.


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Bop n Jazz writes up Kenny Shanker’s new CD “Action City”….



Kenny Shanker’s Action City is ridiculously good!

Shanker’s sophomore release on the acclaimed Posi-Tone label shows an exponential growth for an artist whose musical stock should be an arrow pointing straight up! This quintet can swing like a beast and given the fact that Action City boasts all original compositions, Kenny Shanker is indeed a rising star!

The band is A list and his regular rhythm section to boot so the chemistry leaps from your speakers. A gifted and intense lyrical surgeon, Kenny Shanker’s tone has grown yet never overshadows this amazing collective. Pianist Mike Eckroth, bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Brian Fishler are all working from the same page of the Shanker harmonic playbook. An old fashioned straight ahead blowing sessions with contemporary compositions, it doesn’t get much better than this. While the percussive and more Latin influenced “Summer Siesta” smolders, the gorgeous ballad “Another Morning” may just be the hidden gem of the release. 

Action City has surprises for everyone and is easily one of the best for 2014. 


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Kenny Shanker “Steppin’ Up” gets a nice write-up from Critical Jazz…

I make it a point to almost never read other writers unless I am doing research on an artist that I may not be as familiar with as others. There are some artists that are a pure joy to discover without the slightest pre-conceived notions that come from outside influences and Kenny Shanker is one such artist. Originally recorded in 2009 but taking two and one half years for release has proven well worth the wait as Shanker’s musical happy place is somewhere between post modern fusion and a more accessible straight ahead sound that others are just now catching on to.
Kenny Shanker’s debut release for Posi-Tone is on the cutting edge of a more dynamic approach to straight ahead jazz. At times lingering in the hard bop outer reaches while at other times approaching an edgy fusion sound from the late 70’s, Shanker is developing a unique artistic voice and is certainly a name to remember. One review was somewhat troubling while not intentionally misleading is certainly worthy of further explanation.www.exclaim/ca describes Shanker’s tone and diction reminiscent of fusion pioneer David Sanborn. Of course taste is subjective and ten different listeners can walk away with ten different opinions, the quote ” His tone and diction might remind you a bit of David Sanborn, a chief purveyor of smooth jazz ” is terribly misleading. Smooth jazz is a radio format that official kicked off ten years after Sanborn released his first offering in 1975. To be factually correct if not historically responsible you can take some of the more commercial works of Wes Montgomery from roughly 1965 and these tunes easily fit the accepted definition by context that is smooth jazz. To play guilt by association with a genre that Shanker does not even remotely come close to is irresponsible at best and a gross over-generalization of a true rising star in the alto saxophone world. As someone that plays, Shanker’s tone and articulation is far closer to a Phil Woods or Lee Konitz. As a soloist Shanker is a lyrical gifted player with a keen sense of harmonic development perhaps closer to a Sonny Stitt. Musical frames of reference are inherently unfair as I have stated many times and this may be the best instance of proving my point.
While Shanker’s compositions are deceptively subtle in their accessibility there is a far more complex melodic development occurring throughoutSteppin Up  including “Winter Rain” which takes on a bit of a hard bop bite with Art Hirahara’s piano solo. “Firth and Berry” continues the hard bop feel while Shanker’s keen sense of harmonic progression allows for a lyrical sense of purpose. “Sarah” is a soulful ballad that moves to the point of melancholy with some intimate solo work from both Shanker and pianist Mike Eckroth.
There is an intriguing zen like less is more approach to this release. Notes are not wasted and melodic lines are for the most part clean and straight ahead. Kenny Shanker is finding his own niche and has the musical foresight to know when to push forward and more appropriately when to reel it in, a gift that is hard to teach. Stepping Up is a first rate debut release, a captivating ebb and flow as Shanker makes his own musical identity known. A rock solid offering full of depth and texture. Kenny Shanker is destined to become a formidable force in the world of straight ahead jazz!
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The JazzBreakfast on Kenny Shanker and Patrick Corneilus….

Kenny Shanker
Steppin’ Up
(PosiTone PR8087)
Debut from alto saxophonist Shanker and a band of Art Hirahara or Mike Eckroth on piano, Lage Lund on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fischler on drums.

Shanker writes all the tunes with the exception of the closer, Lenny Bernstein’s Somewhere, and he has a nice full and fruity sound on alto. Born in California, and a student of the Manhattan Schoo, he was snapped up by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and has since played in loads of clubs and on loads of sessions, won a composition award and written soundtrack music

Which all goes into making this a most accomplished debut. Listen to him – and the band as a whole – at a rolling boil on Fifth And Berry, and developing some forceful lyricism onRhapsody.

Really good recording sound, too, with the subtlety of Shanker’s timbre particularly lovely on Sarah.

Patrick Cornelius
Maybe Steps
(PosiTone PR8089)
Another alto player, another PosiTone recording, but a different sound and style.

Cornelius is from texas and met drummer Kendrick Scott via the All State Jazz Band. He studied at Berklee, moved to New York and was in the same Manhattan School class as trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Gerald Clayton (who, along with Scott, appears on this disc).

Cornelius has a fine way of composing which determines the improvisation that should go with it. The result is that satisfying state where written parts and solos are blurred in the listener’s ears.

Try Brother Gabriel for size. It borrows some harmonic material from Peter Gabriel’s Here Comes The Flood (hence the title) and is a little beauty of reflection and quiet emotional intensity. Cornelius has a thinner tone than Shanker but is equally eloquent.

Good unclassifiable modern jazz.


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The Jazz Word on Kenny Shanker “Steppin’ Up”…

Steppin’ Up is a powerhouse set of aggressive jazz from New York-based alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker. A commanding soloist who draws from a wide range of influence, Shanker moves easily from contemporary, modal-based ideas to full-throttle, energized swing on this debut release, recorded in 2009. His challenging compositions maintain a listener friendly appeal with lyrical themes and tight, straightforward grooves.

The driving momentum of “Fifth and Berry,” the lightness of “Sarah” and the conviction applied to Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” bring out an improvisational style in the California native that is fast thinking and quick witted. Pianists Art Hirahara and Mike Eckroth contribute solid performances. Guitarist Lage Lund’s linear approach is stunning, especially on “Fifth and Berry” and “E. J.” Brian Fishler is a workhorse of a drummer, pushing hard and keeping his colleagues on edge.

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Peter Hum reviews “more-altos-you-ought-to-know-about”…

Over at the office of Posi-Tone, the Los Angeles-based jazz label, 2011 is jokingly referred to as the “year of the altos.” Below are reviews of three discs that have helped define the year for the label.  Not surprisingly, their similarities are not limited to the horn played by the leaders involved. As per the Posi-tone mandate, the CDs brim with modern mainstream jazz zeitgeist built on a post-bop foundation. The discs also adhere to some of Posi-Tone producer Marc Free’s recommendations, offering a bounty of tunes under six minutes — all the better to be played on the radio — as well as a couple of covers of standards meant to open a window on the leader’s inspirations and influences.

However, of the three discs below, I have a clear favourite, and I’ll start by discussing it.

Maybe Steps (Posi-Tone)
Patrick Cornelius

This disc clearly strikes me as the most accomplished disc of Posi-Tone’s batch. OnMaybe Steps, alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius demonstrates striking poise, assurance and eloquence in his playing, and  his compositions are well-crafted lyrical statements, not simply content to be blowing vehicles.

The disc, the saxophonist’s third under his own name, also rises to the top because Cornelius has called upon some of the jazz world’s most exceptional young players for the recording. Pianist Gerald Clayton (who sounds impeccable throughout), guitarist Miles Okazaki, bassist Peter Slavov (heard in Ottawa in 2010 playing with Joe Lovano’s UsFive group), and drummer Kendrick Scott really know how to make the music breathe and come alive as they provide supple, responsive, nuanced accompaniment. Even in the confines of a five-minute tune, Cornelius, Clayton and Okazaki can build compelling solo statements that grow and flourish. And of course, Cornelius and his bandmates can go big when the music calls for obvious shows of strength.

The discs get right down to business with the rollicking Christmas Gift, which has a nice modern edge to it as it alternates stretches of simmering and boiling. The track gives a clear indication of the disc’s appealing mix of urbane sophistication and power. Shiver Song, heard in the excerpt below is a samba-style song with plenty of hustle and forward motion. Short as it is, the clip also gives you a sense of the tartness and focus of Cornelius’ playing.

The disc hits its cool notes well too. Take for example, the loping title track that re-affirms the timeless pleasure of a two-feel groove gearing up to 4/4 swinging, the pretty Brother Gabriel (which echoes Peter Gabriel’s Here Comes The Flood), Into the Stars, and the jaunty, lilting 5/4 tune A Day Like Any Other. After a fine solo introduction by Clayton, Into the Stars is a straight-eighths tune, both tender and tense, that showcases Okazaki’s flowing melodies.

Bella’s Dreaming, inspired by Cornelius’ young daughter, is a short but meaningful exercise in crescendo. With the bolero-style Le Rendez-vous Final, the disc finds a strong, plaintive conclusion.

Posi-tone producer Marc Free likes a few standard or two thrown in on his CD, and Cornelius has obliged with some good ones. My Ship, a duet with pianist Asssen Doykin, is both personal and true to the song — not an easy balance to strike for younger jazz players. Conception is a fast romp that, like the title track, underscores the continued relevance of swinging.

For the next few days, Maybe Steps is streaming here, courtesy of Montreal’s Nextbopping jazz advocates. See if you like it as much as I do.

New Directions (Posi-Tone)
Travis Sullivan

This quartet disc is the first small-ensemble outing in more than 10 years  from alto saxophonist Sullivan, who is better known as the leader of his Bjork-covering big band, Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra. Front and centre on this CD of eight originals and two covers, Sullivan seems to take at least a few cues from Kenny Garrett in terms of his at times astringent sound and the kind of writing and modal soloing that he’s going for.

Sullivan’s joined by pianist Mike Eckroth (who’s been doing some big league playing with John Scofield), bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Brian Fishler for a varied program than generally leans toward the straight-eighths, groovy side of things (the funky, riffy 7/4 tune Hidden Agenda, the 5/4 piece Magic Monday, the slinky tuneGeorgie, which opens up considerably on the version below).

Tune-wise, the best of this batch is Jamia’s Dance, the CD’s well-chosen opener, which is poppy but substantial.

On the less funky side of the ledger, Tuneology is a fast minor-key swinger, Leap of Faith is a nice 3/4 tune, and Autumn in NH makes a good bit of music out of very little — after a pretty piano intro by Eckroth and a short theme,  free, soundscape-oriented playing ensues.

The standard Spring Is Here receives a very straight reading. It has the right vibe to it, but Sullivan’s playing is more stiff and brusque than I would like — he sounds considerably more free and expansive during his cadenza than when he’s playing the tune proper.

With his cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Sullivan lets loose his inner ’80s child. He sets the Tears for Fears tune to a jazzier, waltzing groove, and reharmonizes it a bit. It’s OK, but this ’80s child likes it best when Fishler brings back the tune’s original groove during the tune’s coda.

Sullivan’s disc is a solid one, with nicely proportioned post-bop performances and enough good writing and accomplished playing to make it distinctive.

Steppin’ Up (Posi-Tone)
Kenny Shanker

On his hard-hitting debut CD, alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker shows off a big, ripe  sound that brings Kenny Garrett and Jan Garbarek to my mind at times. That sound is consistently put into service during persuasive, committed solos — Shanker has a lot of bop under his fingers (and some Garrett-style lines too) and has no problems revving up to top gear when he improvises.

As a composer, Shanker creates direct, uncomplicated meat-and-potatoes fare — all the better for him to unleash strong stuff when he solos. A good chunk of Steppin’ Upis  pop- and gospel-influenced (the down-home opener Winter RainHome Sweet Home, the pretty, quarter-notey ballad Sarah). Quirk is a groovy, Garrett-style tune. The rocking Rhapsody strives to be grand and, well, rhapsodic — I don’t find it says that much to me, however.

On the swinging side of things, Fifth & Berry is a brisk, mostly minor blues, with guitarist Lage Lund contributing the first of three guest appearances. The guitarist also enlivens E.J., a charging tune, which features a swaggering half-time solo by pianist Art Hirahara before the music becomes more crowded. Lund returns onSaints, another multi-groove tune, and his playing on that track might be one of the disc’s highlights — the beginning of the solo feels more patient than much of Steppin’ Up.  Prowl is a jazz waltz that could have been better shaped, although Hirahara delivers a strong solo.

The disc closes with a rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere. Shanker sings the melody directly through his horn, and pianist Mike Eckroth expresses himself well.

Steppin’ Up clearly conveys the heat and power of Shanker’s music. Indeed, it feels to me like the recording, mixing and mastering meant to stress the punchiness of the proceedings — at the expense, I think, of more varied, nuanced expression. For comparison’s sake, drummer Bryan Fishler comes off as more rigid and brash than he does on Sullivan’s disc. Probably that’s more a function of the recording, rather than what Fishler played.

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Dan Bilawsky reviews Kenny Shanker “Steppin’ Up”….

Alto Saxophonist Kenny Shanker is proof that an artist’s direction isn’t always reflected in their tonal personality. Shanker possesses a sleek-and-sweet tone that has served him well on dates with big name ghost band, like theTommy Dorsey Orchestra and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, as well as smooth-leaning pianist David Benoit, but his own music operates outside of the “contemporary jazz” orbit.

Shanker occasionally hints at the simpler side of jazz, with an easily appealing, less-is-more melody (“Home Sweet Home”) or a heart-wrenching ballad (“Sarah”) that showcases his tender side, but he also puts his silky saxophone to good use in more striking fashion. He throws caution to the wind on the urgent “Fifth And Berry,” which showcases a bevy of bravura solos from various band members, turns up the heat during his solo on “Quirk,” and brings a sense of elation to “E.J.”

While Shanker didn’t invite any horn players to join him here, guitarist Lage Lund occasionally serves as his front line partner. Both men complement each other when working in tandem, but Lund’s greater contributions come with his solos. He pushes at the boundaries of Shanker’s songs in pleasurable ways and brings a thoroughly modern slant to this music. Pianist and label mate Art Hirahara also shares Lund’s sense of adventure when soloing, and his comping pushes Shanker in some unexpected directions during the saxophonist’s solo flights.

While Hirahara mans the keys for the majority of this music, Mike Eckroth takes over on three numbers, and his playing is in-line with Shanker in every way. His soloing on Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” is a sparkling example of measured contemplation and musicality, and completely captures the emotional essence of “Sarah.”

It took Shanker eight post-college years to step out and record this debut, and the album aged on the shelves for another two-plus years, but it was worth the wait. Steppin’ Up signals the arrival of another unique and promising saxophone personality in the ever-impressive Posi-Tone stable.

Track Listing: Winter Rain; Fifth And Berry; Rhapsody; Quirk; E.J.; Sarah; Prowl; Saints; Home Sweet Home; Somewhere.

Personnel: Kenny Shanker: alto saxophone; Lage Lund: guitar; Art Hirahara: piano; Yoshi Waki: bass; Mike Eckroth: piano (4, 6, 10); Brian Fishler: drums.

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SaxShed on Kenny Shanker “Steppin Up!”….

Alto saxophonist and relative newcomer Kenny Shanker has recently released his inaugural CD “Steppin’ Up” on Posi-Tone Records.

In addition to Shanker on alto saxophone, this wonderful jazz recording features Lage Lund, guitar; Brian Fishler, drums; Yoshi Waki, bass and both Art Hirahara and Mike Eckroth on piano.

Although I could only offer a partial listening as of this writing, it was immediately clear that Kenny Shanker is another talented, young saxophonist to be featured on Posi-Tone Records. His sound is clear, lines are melodic and he has surrounded himself with a cast of outstanding musicians.

The recording is busting at the seams with no less than 10 compelling tracks. Somewhere around 2:00 into Fifth and Berry and then again during Quirk I became a fan of Kenny Shanker’s playing. His sound shimmers with clarity, bright yet full of life. On Prowl, he maintains his clearness of tone, yet seems a bit darker in tone – if only a bit.

Home Sweet Home is another winner on “Steppin’ Up” by Kenny Shanker. Fans of the jazz group “The Yellowjackets” will find a familiar sound and feel to this lovely tune.

The final cut Somewhere demonstrates Shanker’s ability to translate a melody through his horn. I suspect Shanker is a hell of a lead alto player as well.

You can find out more about “Steppin’ Up,” Kenny Shanker and other innovative recordings at