The broader a bandleader’s tonal palette, the richer the music becomes. Ben Kono proves this numerous times on the colorful Crossing, a sublime ensemble disc that finds lots of unique territory being investigated. The respected New York saxophonist is expert in an array of instruments that stretches from oboe to shakuhachi, and he’s put some deep composing and arranging skills into play on his debut. As Crossing’s varied interests present themselves, its sextet music speaks to both the power of scope and the art of integration.
“I never wanted to record a straight-ahead small group thing,” explains the 43-year-old bandleader. “My tastes have strayed away from that, and more towards contemporary classical sounds. I’m absorbing music that’s been informed by jazz, the Bang On A Can composers, and what might be called post-classical work. It’s a different kind of sound.”
What Kono’s describing can be heard in the buoyant bounce of “Rice,” the pensive elan of “Shadowdance,” and the dramatic reflections of “The Crossing.” Two decades ago, someone would have deemed this “third stream.” At various points, Kono’s flute, English horn, bass clarinet all help stir the group’s graceful maneuvers towards something quite singular.
Working with some of the city’s most expressive jazz musicians gives the action an exceptional slant as well. Pianist Henry Hey, guitarist Pete McCann, bassist John Hébert, and drummer John Hollenbeck form the core team; Kono’s wife, singer and French horn player Heather Laws, appears on a few tracks, too. The saxophonist has had longstanding relationships with his work mates, and says that the notion of family is the thread that connects several of the disc’s pieces.
Ben Kono: oboe, english horn, tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, shakuhachi, compositions
Henry Hey: piano, Fender Rhodes
Pete McCann: acoustic and electric guitars
John Hébert; bass
John Hollenbeck: drums and percussion
Heather Laws: voice and french horn