One of the bummers of this crit gig is the set of restrictions I impose upon myself in order that all CDs be treated fairly, without pre-bias, reviewed in date order of submission. That means that when I get new output from musicians I REALLY dig, like Steve Khan, and when I also have a lengthy backlog, which I now always do, I must restrain a sweating enfevered hand, foregoing immediate indulgences for postponed pleasure. In plainer English: I desperately want to listen to what just arrived but can't! Freud would call it a double-bind, I call it a pain in the ass.
The Monsignor and friggin' nuns back at St. Joseph's, though, would be SO proud of me! Not to mention the Amish and Mormons. Probably orthodox rabbis too. And that abstinence mode was the initial scenario for Subtext, which, as soon as I yanked it out of the postal mailer, had me swooning and delirious. I dug Steve back when he was a sessioneer, but with the Two for the Road LP with Coryell, the Evidence solo platter, and then his Braziliana gigs and a previously never-properly-displayed unbelievable fretsmanship sprinted to the fore in ways neither I nor anyone else could have anticipated.
Where's Mumphrey (off the Eyewitness album) sprang up, and, for me and—dammit!—too few others, a whole new music modality opened. I've written of this previously, I won't belabor the point, but suffice it to say that between that 1981 release and now, one hell of a lot of great tunes have wafted our way from this cat's mind and fingers, and if you missed any of it, more's the pity. Steve's one of the finest guitar players this country, and planet, has ever produced.
But musicians have a special dilemma: sooner or later, one grows a tad weary of doing the same groove over and over again, no matter how superbly executed those recitations may be and no matter how much the fans might be dying to hear them ad infinitum. Musos, like anyone, thirst for the new. After all, think of King Crimson doing Red exhaustingly for 10 years or George Benson ceaselessly reprising his Breezin' work for half of forever, and you get the idea. In recent years, Khan's done just that, branched out, wandered somewhat away from the original wonderful quartet with Manolo Badrena, Steve Jordan, and Anthony Jackson, and worked with John Pattitucci, Jack DeJohnette, Dennis Chambers, and other estimables, all to excellent results. Well, now comes Subtext, and he's grown more experimental again…but perhaps not quite in the way you might expect.
A number of critics, including Dan Bilawski over at All About Jazz, are averring this release is much in vein with the past, but I disagree. It's a marked departure, timbrally, energetically, and expositionally differentiated, sometimes almost as if Khan has been working with cats adjuncted off the old Azymuth unit (Malheiros, Lins, Bertrami) rather then the samba funk of days of his own past. Yes, Subtext is latinate in much of its basing and quite a few of its textures, but the shift is unmistakable, and I suspect Dennis Chambers, one of two drummers, may have had influence, as he's been quite remarked upon for work with heavy shredmeisters and fusioneers like Greg Howe, Dean Brown, T. Lavitz, Tony Macalpine, and so on. Liner notes writer Josef Woodard has it much more correctly than Bilawski: Steve's expanding and evolving.
I think, though, he's losing a small something in the process, perhaps only temporarily. There are more surfaces here but a bit less depth, a lack of the effulgent almost sorcerous richness of, Casa Loco or the aforementioned Eyewitness. The ambiences are noticeably more busy, less jungle mystical, more urban, though when Khan steps out for his solos, all that goes by the boards, and the magic re-emerges in full splendor, especially when just the rhythm section backs him.
Too, there's a good deal less in Khan's pedal or outboard processing, which never was abundant in any case, more a straight-through-the-amps old jazz sound. Right from the outset, Randy Brecker tips in a great solo in the opening cut, Ornette Coleman's Bird Food, while also signaling the modified direction. Never Let Me Go, Baraka Sasa, and Bait and Switch are my favorite cuts, and Steve has also opted in Wayne Shorter, Greg Osby and Monk songs.
Ahhhh, who knows? Maybe I'm just fond of that near-drug-experience the Jackson / Jordan / Badrena band exhibited, as though Carlos Castaneda was in the studio with the band. You can get the boy out of the 70s but you can never get the 70s (and early 80s) out of the boy, I guess. In fact, I have to say that the longer I listen, the more I'm shifting into the mode and certainly can't complain that there's more a Martino / Farlow sound present, so, in the end, I'll refer back to Bilawski, and embrace him as an ink-stained brother when he notes that "when it come to this venerable guitarist: Khan kills in his own special way".
Amen, brother, and pass the communion wafer. Hey, wait a minute, is there supposed to be medical marijuana baked into those bread chips?
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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