Album Review of

Written by Joe Ross
March 5, 2022 - 11:34am EST
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A Vortex typically results when there is a difference in fluid speed, such as from fast wind moving over slow wind. The result is a mass of whirling fluid or air, a whirlpool or whirlwind. Vortex follows up on Kenny Shanker’s 2021 release of Beautiful Things, a project that reached #2 on The Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Jazz Chart. With Vortex, the New York-based alto saxophonist gives us another very pleasant and lively set of cohesive originals and three jazz classics, each track brimming with its own charm and charisma. On Shanker’s fifth album as leader during the past decade, the musician’s heart and soul are laid out there in punchy solos, solid grooves and bright, breezy soundscapes.

As with his last album, the eclectic saxophonist is joined on all tracks by Daisuke Abe (guitar), Mike Eckroth (piano), Yoshi Waki (bass) and Brian Fishler (drums). Also, just as on Beautiful Things, Bill Mobley’s trumpet colors three Shanker originals, here being “Vortex”, “Ramble” and “Cinnamon.” “Ramble” is also a nice showpiece for guitarist Abe. 

For standards, the band’s swinging version of “Lulu’s Back in Town” is a crowd pleaser, and they reinvent “Autumn Leaves” with some enchanting interpretive improvisational twists. Their take on Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke” doesn’t rush tempo, and the dialogue between Shanker and Eckroth reminds me of tasty conversations that Paul Desmond had with Brubeck. As far as originals go, there’s quite a variety of material from enchanting, contemplative ballads (“Nightfall” and “Winter Song”) and bossa (“Cinnamon”) to post-bop that also incorporates Shanker’s soprano sax (“Midnight Snack”) and medium-tempo compositions suitable for big band charts (“Ramble” and “Hunter”).    

Another thoroughly enjoyable listen with considerable depth of artistic expression, this album can also get you caught up in a whirling Vortex of emotion. Shanker and Co.’s music creates powerful feelings, and the intersecting crossing points between energy fields in the arrangements also impart balance, harmony and spiritual properties. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)