Born: September 14, 1978 Primary Instrument: Sax, baritone
Born on September 14, 1978, Landrus grew up in Reno, Nevada, and discovered the saxophone at 12. An excitable kid with a wild streak, he fell in love with the horn, a passion stoked by his middle school band teacher Frank Perry, who gave him recordings by Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Don Menza. “I just fell in love with it,” Landrus says. “I knew that’s what I’m going to do with my life. I practiced hours and hours every day, playing along with those recordings.”
His discipline quickly paid off, and before he reached high school Landrus was subbing regularly when his saxophone teacher couldn’t make his weekly jazz gig. Featuring veteran musicians working in the casino show bands, the band included the town’s top players, most of whom were three or four times his age.
“I’d go and get my ass handed to me,” Landrus says. “But it was great. I was learning what I needed to know, and they helped me tremendously. They encouraged me like crazy. By the time I was in high school I started writing music and put my own quartet together. I was 16 when I played my first big show gig with the Coasters and the Drifters, and I got in with those old soul and R&B acts.”
Through his teenage years he focused on the tenor sax, playing in bands around the region. But it soon became clear that the bari offered a wider and better assortment of gigs, and he increasingly devoted himself to the horn. After earning a BA in music from the University of Nevada Reno, he launched his own nonet and spent several years working in a wide range of settings. The influence of his Reno show band mentors led Landrus to add an array of instruments to his arsenal, and he can answer the call on more than a dozen wind instruments.
His musical curiosity eventually brought him to NEC, where he earned two master degrees in three years (in jazz composition and jazz performance). Awarded the Gunther Schuller Medal by the NEC faculty, he emerged from the prestigious program having turned professors and mentors like trombonist/arranger Brookmeyer, pianist Mike Cain, and Boston saxophone legends George Garzone and Jerry Bergonzi into friends and peers. He credits Brookmeyer with encouraging the decision to make the bari his main saxophone. “I fought it for a while,” Landrus says. “I auditioned for NEC on tenor and bari. Bob said, ‘You have a voice on the baritone that I haven’t heard. I was Gerry Mulligan’s bandleader for so many years. Trust me, you need to run with this.’”
He moved to New York City two weeks after graduating in 2007 and he’s been busy playing with a glittering cross section of the New York scene, including Billy Hart, Frank Kimbrough, Donny McCaslin, Steve Wilson, Jay Anderson, Lewis Nash, Scott Robinson, Ryan Truesdell, Dave Pietro, Herb Robertson, Greg Gisbert, Steve Swell, Jason Palmer, Ayn Inserto, Rudy Royston, MIchael Cain, Frank Carlberg, Maria Schneider, Rufus Reid, Alan Ferber, Nir Felder, and many others. He’s currently touring with Esperanza Spalding and has earned a place in the DownBeat Critics Poll in the Rising Star Bari category in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He’s recorded seven CDs featuring various bands and is on faculty at the 92Y School Of Music and the Lagond Music School.
Standing six foot seven, Landrus is known as Big B by his friends. His imposing size probably has something to do with his affinity for low register instruments. “I’ve always loved b flat clarinet but I never got a sound that felt like me,” Landrus says. “I picked up bass clarinet in 2002, and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. These low big instruments fit me. I love the low frequencies.”
Awards:Artist for: Lebayle Mouthpieces Selmer Paris Saxophones Rico Reeds
Featuring Guitarist Nir Felder, Bassist Lonnie Plaxico, Drummer Rudy Royston, Pianist/Keyboardist Frank Carlberg and Violinist Mark Feldman
Conducted by Grammy Award-nominated Ryan Truesdell
“Landrus is someone to watch, an exciting voice on the big horn.” — Bill Milkowski, JazzTimes
“****Four-stars. Baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Brian Landrus makes the low heavy horns float on air… tonal nuance, melodic sense and instrumental command that sets him apart from his peers on the big pipes.” — Ed Enright, DownBeat
Over the past decade Brian Landrus has emerged as the most powerful new voice on the baritone saxophone with a series of critically hailed albums exploring an array of grooves, from straight-ahead swing to slinky R&B. But none of his previous releases anticipated the ambitious scope and stunning beauty of Mirage, a singular masterpiece integrating his Kaleidoscope quintet with a string quartet led by violin maestro Mark Feldman. Melodically charged and harmonically venturesome, Landrus’ music is marked by sumptuous textures, cascading lines and captivating movement. Mirage is slated for release on June 25, 2013 on BlueLand Records.
Landrus, who’s recently been touring with Esperanza Spalding, credits Bob Brookmeyer with inspiring him to tackle writing for jazz ensemble and strings. After studying at New England Conservatory with the legendary trombonist/arranger, he forged a close friendship with his former mentor. Upon Brookmeyer’s death in 2011, Landrus went back and explored some of his orchestral writing, fueling his determination to capture the music that had been slowly coalescing in his mind.
“I always wanted to do something with strings,” Landrus says. “After Bob passed I listened to a lot of his music, like a session he did with the Metropole Orchestra. I was in a space where a lot of the music I was developing had a common thread. I wanted to play things where the strings are crucial, where my group and the strings are completely interconnected.”
Landrus describes his old NEC friend Ryan Truesdell as an indispensable collaborator both in the project’s conception and the music’s realization in the studio. Creative confidantes ever since they bonded while nervously awaiting their NEC auditions, they both thrived under Brookmeyer’s thoughtful guidance. As Landrus started planning the Mirage recording sessions he realized that performing the music as a full ensemble, rather than relying on tracking and overdubs, required a savvy conductor to keep the music flowing, particularly since he often switches instruments mid-tune.
“I gave Ryan the music the month before and he studied the hell out of it,” says Landrus, who’s been voted a DownBeat Baritone Sax Rising Star the past three years. “He took over as conductor in the studio and on a lot of the tunes he handled all the cuing. I trusted him to take the energy to the next level. I told him, you’ll have to conduct it how you think, how it feels, and he made it happen.”
— over — Brian Landrus Mirage - 2 -
The album opens with an anticipation-building drone introducing “Arrival,” a soaring, irrepressibly buoyant anthem that sets the template for Landrus’ organic integration of the quintet and strings. While not created as a suite, Mirage does feel like a vast canvas painted with the same shimmering watercolor palette. Landrus uses the strings to open “A New Day,” which almost feels like a programmatic evocation of a gentle summer dawn, but when Lonnie Plaxico’s implacably propulsive bass moves to the foreground the vibe shifts from lulling to wide-eyed expectation.
Plaxico anchored Landrus’ 2009 straight-ahead session Traverse, and Landrus knew he wanted him in the mix for Mirage. “Lonnie’s sound is massive, and his rhythmic subdivision is very wide - he fills everything out.” While he occasionally joins the Plaxico at the bottom with rumbling contra alto clarinet lines (particularly on the brief and poignant “Reach”), Landrus spends most of his time on bari, and no player today possesses a more beautiful and pliant tone on the burly horn.
Many of Landrus’ lines seem to have been conceived with Nir Felder in mind, and the contrast between Landrus’ thick and breathy bari and Felder’s sleek, quicksilver guitar is one of the album’s reoccurring pleasures. On the title track, which fully reveals Landrus’ gift for writing bright singing melodies, they both take dancing solos that seem to leap into space. Composing the music “that’s what I heard, Nir’s incredible sound,” Landrus says. “And I love the sound of bass clarinet and bari blending and playing melodies with his guitar. It’s a really colorful and unique sound, like its own instrument.”
Landrus is equally comfortable getting down and earthly, like on “Jade,” a tune with a slinky backbeat redolent of late night revelry. He closes the album with “Kismet,” a solo bass saxophone soliloquy that showcases his incredible tone and musicianship.
In many ways the band is built from the groove up, starting with drummer extraordinaire Rudy Royston, who’s played on both previous Kaleidoscope albums. A highly sought after player whose recent credits include albums with Bill Frisell, J.D. Allen, Ben Allison, Ron Miles, and his sister-in-law Tia Fuller, Royston “is brilliant and incredibly versatile,” Landrus says. “He can swing his ass off, and has the ability to feel out any tune and make it sound natural.” Like with Truesdell, Landrus’ relationship with Frank Carlberg, who was also tight with Brookmeyer, dates back to his years at NEC, though the pianist was his professor rather than a fellow student. Landrus made a point of studying with him, and before long he was playing in Carlberg’s big band. “I learned a lot from him, and we’ve been playing together for years,” Landrus says. “He has a freedom to his playing and composing that’s a drastic thing. Some of his music contains the most intense builds I’ve ever heard in my life.”
The other key figure in the recording was violinist Mark Feldman, who provided essential assistance to Landrus in shaping the string arrangements. “I’d call him up and say is this possible? I’d send him music and ask will this work?” Landrus says. Feldman also recruited string players adept at jazz rhythms, like cellist Jody Hammann, who has toured with Esperanza Spalding for several years. “All of the string players got together as a group and made it happen,” Landrus says. “Jody’s a phenomenal musician with a gorgeous sound, and she hooked me up with Esperanza,” with whom Landrus spent much of the past year on the road.
Music this beautiful and fresh might seem like an illusion, but Mirage is the work of an oversized talent who’s just getting started.
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