Mainstream Meets Fusion

The Suitcase - Live in Köln '94 (Tone Center)
Steve Khan

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

Guitarist Steve Khan is an artist who can deftly blend straight-ahead and fusion styles. He has been recording since 1977 and has just released a new live album, The Suitcase - Live in Köln '94. His bandmates on this club date from Germany are Anthony Jackson on electric contrabass guitar and Dennis Chambers on drums.

Jackson has played with everyone from Buddy Rich to Roberta Flack and has had a longstanding role in various lineups led by Khan; Louisvillians may recall his performance at the 2007 Big Rock Jazz festival in the band of Roland Vazquez. Chambers might be described as a guitarist's drummer, having performed and recorded with John Scofield in the 1980s, and being the Santana Band drummer for much of the past decade. This is a generous (2&1/2 hour) double set, which also features beautiful cover art by Jean-Michel Folon, whose paintings graced many of Khan's prior releases.

The first set opens with three fast-paced originals, "Where's Mumphrey?," "What I'm Said" and "Blue Zone 41." Lee Morgan's "Melancholee" offers the listener a chance to catch a breath while Khan settles into a subtle ballad, with Chambers switching to brushes. Another swinging, straight-ahead piece is next, Thelonious Monk's "Played Twice." Three more originals close out the first disc, the highlight of which, in my opinion, is the title track, "The Suitcase." This is a challenging and rewarding piece which allows the players a great deal of freedom. Jackson's solo introduction is especially intriguing.

The second disc is a mixture of more original pieces with additional material from jazz masters. It opens with the leader's "Guy Lafleur," with a funky beat, a Weather Report vibe, and more solo space for Jackson before Khan takes it out. His "Uncle Roy" is a rolling, mid-tempo workout. "Eyewitness," which was the name of an earlier Khan band and album, is like a mini-suite. Next up is Khan's arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Capricorn." Khan pays tribute to his father, the late Sammy Cahn, in a lovely rendition of his "Dedicated to You." The final two pieces, Joe Henderson's "Caribbean Fire Dance" and Lee Morgan's "Mr. Kenyatta" find the leader graciously allowing Chambers to demonstrate his prowess on the drum kit.

Fans of both mainstream jazz guitar as well as fusion will find much to savor in this concert performance. For additional information, the label site is www.shrapnelrecords.com, and Khan's is www.stevekhan.com.

I highly recommend Khan's site, which contains a lengthy essay by him with details of the back story of this recording.