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Reviews - Beautiful Things
If you love Bop—and who doesn't—have I got a guy for you! Kenny Shanker is a brilliant saxophonist, pianist, vocalist, and composer. Now he releases Beautiful Things, a remarkable album of originals and Jazz standards. The quest for beauty runs like a thread through all of the 12 tracks.
Cool Mint kicks off the album with a circumspect work of fine Jazz with great alto sax from Shanker and excellent work by Mike Eckroth on piano.
Prestissimo is as quick and lively as the song title indicates. Think of the blistering Bebop of Parker and others and you can see where the influences were born. The Rodgers and Hart beauty It Never Entered My Mind is from the 1940 musical Higher and Higher. Eckroth’s languid and lovely piano opens the piece and Shanker takes on the memorable melody with gorgeous effect. Daisuke Abe offers a wonderful acoustic guitar interlude that is warm and captivating.
Mirth is another Shanker original and features Bill Mobley on trumpet in fine lockstep with Shanker. Shanker gives some raw alto punctuations as Yoshi Waki and Brian Fishler keep a tight pocket for the rhythms along with Eckroth’s percussive piano passes. Both guitar and piano give fascinating leads and the melody has a great hook.
Speaking of great melodies, Oscar Peterson’s L’Impossible follows and is beautifully arranged for the alto sax with bright passages from piano and guitar. Pay attention to Waki’s cool and understated bass lines.
Orange and Gray is another Shanker original and the transitions between the soloists are intriguing in an avant garde approach. This is followed by Vincent Youmans’ Without a Song with its andante bop. It includes some of Shanker’s sweetest spots on the album. And Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s I’m Old Fashioned is just beautiful under the exquisite touch of Shanker and the guys.
Romberg and Hammerstein’s Softly as in a Morning Sunrise gets an excellent Bop makeover with Shanker’s sax acting as the pathfinder. An all-time favorite, this song is finely recrafted and the rhythm section makes for attentive hearing at their up-tempo best.
Things slow down with Jimmy Van Heusen’s Like Someone in Love from the 1944 movie Belle of the Yukon. It is a cool duet between Shanker and bassist Yoshi Waki. Gorgeous.
In Walked Bud is the Thelonious Monk tribute to Bebop master Bud Powell. And if you think you hear snatches of Irving Berlin’s Blues Skies, you are quite correct, of course. As with anything resembling Powell and Monk, the piano gets a great solo as Waki again makes his bass presence heard and felt but Fishler’s drums get a special feature. All worth the price of admission.
The quest for beauty comes to its beautiful climax with Shanker’s own Beautiful Things. The title tells you everything you need to know. It is a sweet and lovely melody with tone and texture taking precedence over tempo and precision. It is an excellent way to end the quest and so satisfying. Shanker’s tonality is splendid.
Kenny Shanker’s Beautiful Things is something gorgeous. With echoes of the world and sound of Bebop, it is what we need to hear now. As ugliness seems to grow and encroach all about us, Shanker truly reminds us that we are surrounded by Beautiful Things.Travis Rogers, Jr. The Sentinel
Alto saxist Kenny Shanker does well with his team on this collection of swinging standards and originals. Trumpeter Bill Mobley sits in for a few tunes, blowing embers with the leader on “Orange and Gray” and the playful “Mirth”. Shanker’s tone is bel canto rich, gliding over the sublime “Cool Mint”, lyrical on “I’m Old Fashioned” and bouncing over the rhythm team on “Softly as In a Morning Sunrise” and festive “In Walked Bud”, with the classy and classical “Beautiful Things” giving Shanker a wondrous aria. This is why Selmers were created.George W. Harris Jazz Weekly
In the vane of a true bop artist, saxophonist Kenny Shanker explores his assets, the nimbleness of his raptures, the sharpness in his playing to accelerate or slow down the dialogue, and the clarity of his movements. The program on his new CD Beautiful Things features both his originals and covers of jazz classics, applying his instinct for layering voices and entangling sequences.
The torchlight countenance of "It Never Entered My Mind," penned by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, features Shanker's saxophone toots forming a weave of dreamy patterns layered in the creamy passages of Daisuke Abe's guitar and the smoldering embers of Mike Eckroth's piano keys. Brian Fishler's rustling drum strikes produce a steady base for "Mirth" as Shanker's sax soars and billows with wild abandonment, withdrawing when Bill Mobley's trumpet takes centerstage. Horns and guitar build into a harmonious entanglement.
"L'Impossible," a pensive piece by Oscar Peterson, is trussed in an enchanting soliloquy expressed by the fluctuating movements of Shanker's sax. His freestyle musings are bold and searing on his original contribution "Orange and Gray," whipping up a rapturous frenzy through "Prestissimo," another original by Shanker.
The spontaneity that Shanker exhibits in his playing shows command of his saxophone paired with instincts that can sketch enchanting soliloquies and searing patterns penned in freehand. Still budding as a modern jazz talent, Shanker promises his signature style and trademark has more growth to come.Jazz2Love
Solid, classic feeling jazz that’ll get you in the right mood.Chris SpectorMidwest Record
Award winning composer, saxophonist, pianist, and vocalist Kenny Shanker has released his latest work of traditional jazz, both original songs and covers of jazz standards. “Prestissimo” is high octane, free form sax that almost sounds totally improvised. Other tracks are cool jazz all the way and I really enjoyed how Shanker weaves the sax and trumpet together so fluidly. Between the bebop sound on several songs to the flowing luxury of a more traditional jazz sound, “Beautiful Things” is exactly that – beautiful. Paul WilsonAudiophile Review
The opening “Cool Mint” has the feel of a sixties Brill Building hit with a memorable melody. It is followed by the hard bop “Prestissimo” with a breakneck tempo that evokes “Giant Steps.” Taken at an almost frantic tempo, Shanker, trumpeter Mobley, and pianist Eckroth navigate the changes impressively. On Rogers & Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind,” he exhibits a beguiling tone. It is followed by the bouncy “Mirth,” with a solo that suggests Sonny Fortune and other Coltrane-influenced alto saxophonists. Mobley adds some mid-range heat on his trumpet on this selection.
Eckroth opens the swinging interpretation of Oscar Peterson’s “L’impossible,” with Shanker exhibiting fluidity along with his melodic tone over the entire range of the alto sax. Abe’s Guitar chords help set the walking tempo for Shanker’s lyrical playing on “Without a Song.” A charming rendition of “I’m Old Fashioned,” where Abe takes solos crisply and cleanly. “Like Someone in Love,” an alluring duet with Waki on bass, is another choice track.
Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” opens as a duet between Shanker and drummer Fishler. Eckroth and Waki join the performance halfway through. Shanker’s title composition closes the recording in a beautiful manner (pun intended). Kenny Shanker plays thoughtfully, displays a beautiful tone and fluid technique, and is backed by a splendid band on an outstanding recording. Ron WeinstockJazz & Blues Report
Beautiful Things is a warm blend of cool bop and jazzy pop. Opening with the original composition, “Cool Mint”, Kenny Shanker is upfront on sax carrying the melody and blowing solid bebop riffs. Another original track, “Prestissimo,” is excellent with aggressive sax runs by Shanker. One of my favorite tracks is “Mirth,” with its searching sax lines. “Like Someone in Love” not only gives Shanker a great base to lay out some of his cooler solos on the release, but I really like the forward nature of Yoshi Waki's work on bass as well as his extended solo. Monk's “In Walked Bud” will have you stomping. Wrapping the release is a smooth composition and title track, “Beautiful Things.” Shanker has excellent tone, closing on a quiet note. Very solid release.Bman's Blues Report
The latest release from saxophonist Kenny Shanker titled "Beautiful Things" features a dozen new tracks, beginning with the swinging melody of "Cool Mint" and the up-tempo, energetic blast of "Prestissimo," before slowing down for the mellow jazz of Rodgers & Hart's "It Never Entered My Mind." The tempo picks back up with the back and forth of "Orange and Gray" with Mike Eckroth on piano and Kenny Shanker on sax, as the two waltz around your speakers in a dance of power and grace. Next, Kenny delivers the feel-good sounds of the classic "Without A Song.” The album finishes with the swift-moving melody of "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" and the gentle, flowing sounds of "Beautiful Things." JP’s Music Blog
Reviews - The Witching Hour
Kenny Shanker - The Witching Hour
Lots of buzz surrounds this California-born jazz saxophonist. This, his third album as a leader, displays a rare gift for interpreting bop with such depth it´s like getting fitted for a hearing aid. You could hear a pin drop between his phrases, which often finish off with a casual trilling that´s as warm as the smooth compositions he´s put together with this quintet, which also features the well-rounded talents of pianist Mike Eckroth and guitarist Daisuke Abe, both of whom receive enough solo spaces so as to not sway the focus from Shanker´s sax. The signature move within these tunes is a straightforward, confident march of quarter-notes of various modalities. Amazingly clear voice here. A+Eric W. SaegerThe Hippo
Kenny Shanker has a rich and full sound on his alto sax as he brings some vintage hard bop to the table with some originals. Teamed with Mike Eckroth/p, Daisuke Abe/g, Yoshi Waki/b and Brian Fishler/dr, he drives with an upbeat "Kottinger Park" gets bluesy with Eckroth´s striding ivories on "Saturday, 2 am" and bops with hip delight to Waki´s pulsating bass on "Satin Ribbons." His soprano sax glides with an easy cadence on "Cascading Lights" and snaps to Fishler´s high hat on the crisp "Lyra." His tone is warm and lyrical, able to milk a passage during ""Spring Flowers" and the moody "Cake Batter." Impressive foray!Jazz Weekly
Shanker's skilled approach to the upper and lower registers alike demonstrates a symbiosis with (and affection for) his alto. With this CD, Kenny proves he is versatile, flexible and supple, and his ace musicians know how to captivate listeners.Debbie Burkedebbieburkeauthor.com
It´s straight-ahead jazz, but with enough melodic influences to work for the masses who tend to shy away from things that aren´t catchy.
Shanker plays the alto on the opener, "Kottinger Park." It´s a high-energy, fun romp. The leader plays with passion, exploring the range of his instrument, with powerful cohesion among his accompanists.
Then there´s the aptly titled "Bobblehead." The pace, the fun, the joy this song inspires will likely have many a listener bobbing her head. Finger snapping and toe tapping follow suit. Some might want to get up and dance. It´s just an all-around feel good song.
Shanker resides in New York City.Woodrow WilkinsThe Jazz Writer
Alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker is joined by his longtime live band: pianist Mike Eckroth, guitarist Daisuke Abe, bassist Yoshi Waki, and drummer Brian Fishler, most of whom played on both of his previous releases. Shanker writes all the tunes, which are melodic and swinging. This is a solid release by a group of young players finding their voices together.Phil FreemanStereogum
All the hip insider cats know who this sax man is and it´s time you found out as well. Playing a mixture of straight ahead bop, he knows how to blow up a storm and really give your ears a work out with his zeal. A hard hitting cat that knows how to layout and lay back as well, he gives out that tasty kind of stuff that keeps you coming back for more. Well doneChris SpectorMidwest Record
Alto and soprano saxophonist Kenny Shanker applies his bright tone, solid chops, and rich imagination to a set of one dozen original tunes. Shanker has selected an exceptional and supportive group of players to join him in this diverse showcase: pianist Mike Eckroth, guitarist Daisuke Abe, bassist Yoshi Waki, and drummer Brian Fisher. His is a strong voice that definitely deserves to be heard.Bob BernotasJust Jazz
I have known Kenny for close to twenty years, going back to our teenage years in the Bay Area. He has been a monster player since we were in high school and I was pleased to see that he is still making great music in New York City. The music on The Witching Hour could be loosely defined as modern straight-ahead, and the caliber of musicianship is really high. There are a number of tunes and solos that deserve your ear.Ryan MeagherThe Jazz Scene
Reviews - 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 with Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Yoshi Waki on bass and Brian Fishler on drums.
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 thisLucid Culture
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 session 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 2014Brent BlackBop n Jazz
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.
Shanker´s been playing the sax since he was ten years old, but he has a flair for writing tunes, too. The dozen tunes for his second album Action City are all his, and they´re all good.
With a solid base rhythm section of Brian Fishler (drums), Mike Eckroth (piano) and Yoshi Waki (bass), Shanker mixes things up with guest instrumentation from the guitar of Daisuke Abe, and also his own instrumentation: he plays both alto and soprano saxes with equal proficiency, depending on the tune. Shanker´s style sometimes evokes Joe Henderson, sometimes Kenny Garrett, sometimes Cannonball Adderley, but all with his own, refined twists to their styles.
Ultimately, it´s Shanker´s songs that make Action City a gratifying listen from start to finish; he avoids the sameness syndrome by varying the styles from smooth swings ("Times Square", "Action City"), to breezy Brazilian flourishes ("Marble Hill, "Summer Siesta"), to searing bebop ("The Tortoise And The Hare") to tender ballads ("Riverbank At Dawn") to even pop shuffles ("Punch", "Snow Paws"). Most of these songs contain interesting chord changes, usually at the bridge, a tipoff that Shanker is not your ordinary composer.S. Victor AaronSomething Else Reviews
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.Bruce LindsayAll About Jazz
This album from New York-based saxophonist Kenny Shanker, is the kind of unpretentious straight-ahead jazz that goes down easy. Shanker´s strong, all-original set hearkens back to the Prestige-era´s classic quintets— tight melodies and urbane solos are the rule here and it´s a fine combination. Action City is highlighted by "Times Square," defined by its strong melody and Jazz Crusaders-style groove. "Another Morning" pops with an astute sense of swing, while "Summer Siesta" clicks with a breezy flavor. The band works well together, but pianist Mike Eckroth is a dazzler in the tradition of a young Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan, and together Shanker and he make these tunes bounce. Stick around for the enticing ballad, "Riverbank at Dawn," and the closer, "Snow Paws"—its pop contours fade away to reveal Shanker´s gift at composing music that´s sure to make your dayNick BewseyIcon
Saxophonist Kenny Shanker returns with an outstanding follow-up to his debut effort. Action City is quite fitting of the name for this effort and a great showcase of Shanker´s wonderful tone. The project is also an outstanding exposition of the writing chops that won the California native an ASCAP award for composition in recent years. The tunes are a nice blend of uptempo swing and bluesy ballads, and everything in-between. A fantastic lineup of players on this effort include Mike Eckroth on piano, Daisuke Abe on guitar, Brian Fishler on drums and Yoshi Waki on bass. The playing is tight and on the mark all the way through and Shanker is a truly talented musician worth checking outThe Jazz Page
Playing sax like he was born to do it, Shanker shows what it means to have the right stuff as he kicks it out in fine style on this straight ahead set of killer jazz. A real player that will reward real listening ears, this is a dandy date to check out and enjoy. A winner throughoutMidwest Record
Alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker´s second CD as a leader — a quintet session, with occasional guests — is bright, tuneful, and overflowing with vitality. This program of twelve Shanker originals never stops swinging and never ceases to delight and engage the listener. This is one talented player and writer to watch very closelyBob BernotasJust Jazz
Reviews - Steppin' Up
Don´t be fooled by the pleasant opener "Winter Rain." Alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker abruptly shifts gears on the next tune, "Fifth and Berry," and burns with boppish abandon alongside guitarist Lage Lund and pianist Art Hirahara, both of whom turn in sizzling solos. Shanker strikes a more lyrical pose on the waltz-time "Home Sweet Home," the restful ballad "Sarah" and a sublime reading of Leonard Bernstein´s moving anthem "Somewhere."Bill MilkowskiJazz Times
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.
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. As a soloist Shanker is a lyrical gifted player with a keen sense of harmonic development.
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. Steppin´ 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!Brent BlackCritical Jazz
Young alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker recorded his debut album as a leader, Steppin' Up, in April 2009 but it's taken almost two-and-a-half years for it to be released. It's a shame that it has stayed in the vaults for so long, for Shanker's melodic and accessible brand of straight-ahead jazz is immediately enjoyable, with enough twists and turns to reward repeated listening.
Shanker wrote all but one of Steppin' Up's ten pieces, possessing a knack for crafting tunes that mix an easy, engaging, melodic center with something a little deeper and more complex. Shanker can blow, but has the maturity and musical awareness to realize that his melodies often work best when he keeps things simple. The resulting album is impressive and hints strongly that Shanker is a player to watchBruce LindsayAll About Jazz
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.Dan BilawskyAll About Jazz
Shanker's alto saxophone playing is impressive for the way he builds his solos, his warm tone and lively engagement with the band.
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 great with the windows down driving the back roads, the music washing over me like a friendly rainstorm. Wherever you decide to listen to Kenny Shanker's debut CD, you'll enjoy the sonic ride.Richard KaminsStep Tempest
This new quintet CD by alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker showcases his bright tone, imaginative improvisations, and formidable writing talents. Shanker´s nine original compositions are appealing and memorable on this thoroughly enjoyable debut release that promises many more fine things to comeBob BernotasJust Jazz
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. Listen to him – and the band as a whole – at a rolling boil on Fifth And Berry, and developing some forceful lyricism on Rhapsody.
Really good recording sound, too, with the subtlety of Shanker´s timbre particularly lovely on SarahThe Jazz Breakfast
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 groovesJohn BarronThe Jazz Word
Alto saxophonist and relative newcomer Kenny Shanker has recently released his inaugural CD "Steppin´ Up" 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.Sax Shed
On his hard-hitting debut CD, alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker shows off a big, ripe sound that is consistently put into service during persuasive, committed solos — Shanker has a lot of bop under his fingers and has no problems revving up to top gear when he improvises. Steppin´ Up clearly conveys the heat and power of Shanker´s music.Peter HumOttawa Citizen