Steve Khan's Grammy nominated Borrowed Time
is a bit of a jazz paradox. Despite several unconventional arrangements and long improvisations, Borrowed Time
's a very accessible album. The sound can even get a little too smooth at times. With phenomenal musicianship and individually great songs, it's hard to understand why a couple of the songs are a bit bland. It could be a matter of comparison, for much of this album is sublime.
"El Faquir" meshes Latin and Indian rhythm with jazz in an odd time signature. As Khan explains it, "When I sent Ralph [Irizarry] the demo and we talked about this, I think that, at first, he thought that I was crazy." At 13 minutes, "El Faquir" is the longest and most indulgent piece, the number of musicians on the track only add to its magnitude. Jack DeJohnette is joined by no less than five percussionists. That's Irizarry's timbales, Roberto Quintero's congas and Manolo Badrena's Venezuelan maracas. Weaving about that Latin crew are Badal Roy's tabla and Geeta Roy's ambient tamboura. To Bob Mintzer's hypnotic bass clarinet add some longtime Khan collaborators, John Patitucci on the upright and Rob Mounsey's keyboards.
Break it down and the Borrowed Time
recording sessions really featured a few different bands. Most of the material has the trio of Khan, Patitucci and DeJohnette joined by percussion. Sometimes Badrena alone, sometimes Quintero and Irizarry. There's a band with a radio-friendly sound shaped by RubŽn Rodr’guez's meaty electric bass and Mounsey's keyboards. On these songs, Marc Qui-ones and Bobby Allende provide the rhythm and Khan trades solos with Randy Brecker's flŸgelhorn.
Khan opens Borrowed Time
with a rollicking version of Thelonius Monk's "I Mean You." It doesn't take long before this number heads out into uncharted territory and these are the moments when Borrowed Time is brilliant. DeJohnette interlaces with percussion while Khan and Patitucci play out their harmonic chase. Even when Khan drops out to leave a hole for DeJohnette and Irizarry, it's exciting music.
Khan and band embellish McCoy Tyner's "Mr. And Mrs. People" and come up with music that's infinitely more engaging than a version of "Have You Met Miss Jones?" that's rather faithful to Tyner's arrangement. "Blues For Ball," another Tyner tune, is one of the best pieces here, noteworthy as it was recorded with a smaller band that provides a real showcase for Khan's fretwork. It seems that there's a subtle McCoy Tyner tribute on this album.
After a long lapse between 1998's You Are Here
and 2005's The Green Field
, Borrowed Time
's 2007 release and a subsequent 2008 live release suggest that Khan's headed into another productive phase of an already prolific career. Hopefully Khan takes the Grammy nomination to mean that his loose interpretations and eclectic approach really works in the studio.