Steve Khan

Though I’ve only heard a handful of his albums (including a couple not reviewed below, like Eyewitness) and guest appearances (Steely Dan’s Gaucho), it’s enough to make Steve Khan one of my favorite guitarists. He’s got good tones, a deep jazz understanding, smooth technique, and great feel.

Got My Mental
Sept. 1996 / Evidence

I’m nonplussed by the title and doodly cover art, but this is one of my favorite jazz guitar records. For one thing, Khan’s round tone is as tasty as his playing. Secondly, the tunestack includes Ornette’s “R.P.D.D.”, Wayne’s “Paraphernalia”, and Keith’s “Common Mama” right off the bat, wonderful pieces that you don’t hear covered on many albums. Third, the busy yet unobtrusive rhythm team of John Patitucci (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) is ideal for a trio format. Also, to keep things varied, half the tracks add percussion (including Don Alias) for Latin-ish arrangements.

In the standout “Paraphernalia”, Khan spreads the melody over the rhythm section’s fast tempo, giving the impression of two different time zones, further twisted by the track’s percussion breaks. The tender “I Have Dreamed” has a similar mix of relaxed melody and hypnotic rhythms. For neo-bop, dial up “R.P.D.D.” or the original title piece, where Khan effortlessly blends complex phrases and provocative chords. He hints at the blues without cliche in “Common Mama”, Eddie Harris’ “Sham Time”, and Lee Morgan’s “Cunning Lee”, and for ballad relief, Khan dotes on “I Have Dreamed” and “The Last Dance”.

Sometimes the music gets repetitive, like the lengthy vamp in “Sham Time”, but the playing mostly sustains interest. Being a guitarist myself, I’m kind of picky about the instrument, and I admire Khan’s sound and style on this record no end. Patitucci always struck me as sort of a chop-head when I heard his early stuff, but somewhere in the ‘90s he really matured. Jack DeJohnette is brilliant as usual. Great recording, too.

The Suitcase
May 1994 / Tone Center

Another good trio outing from guitarist Steve Khan, recorded live with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Dennis Chambers in 1994, polished and released in 2008. (The guitar could have been louder in the mix...) A couple straight hours of nothing but guitar, bass, and drums can grow wearisome, no matter how great the players, yet Khan and his cohorts keep themselves fresh and inspire each other to fine performances. I rate the original pieces “Where’s Mumphrey”, “The Suitcase”, and “Eyewitness” as the best examples of the trio’s interplay, particularly the patient development of the latter tune. Khan selects a few choice tunes from the masters, too – Monk’s “Played Twice” (dazzlingly done), Wayne Shorter’s “Capricorn”, and Lee Morgan’s “Melancholee” and “Mr. Kenyatta”. They also play Joe Henderson’s “Caribbean Fire Dance”, but it’s just a frame for a very long drum solo. I’ve never quite liked Chambers’ powerhouse beats and clinical solos; he does an outstanding job with the soft currents of “Eyewitness”, and he keeps his hyperactivity at a minimum elsewhere, but I find the “Fire Dance” solo a tough slog. And on that note, some of the tunes do get a bit repetitious, such as “Uncle Roy”, which seems to be a crowd pleaser nonetheless. Anyway, I am seduced for the most part by Khan’s fluid articulations, counterpointed so well by Jackson’s uber-bass.

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