Kenny Shanker Steppin' Up

Young alto saxophonist Kenny Shanker can be glib. His tone and diction might remind you a bit of David Sanborn, a chief purveyor of smooth jazz. On his first release as a leader, Steppin' Up, Shanker's phrasing sometimes feels a little repetitive and overdone, as does the general mood. Too much expression can often lead to emotional shallowness, although that's not always the case here. His core band consist of bassist Yoshi Waki, drummer Brian Fishler and alternating pianists Art Hirahara and Mike Eckroth. Shanker wrote all the songs, save one. In "Winter Rain," Hirahara lays down some rich gospel chords and takes a splashy solo that loosens things up. Guitarist Lage Lund also joins in on a few brisk post-bop numbers. But the two ballads ("Sarah" and Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere") are the most effective, with their spare, theatrical melodies ― these are not shallow. Sure, they're a bit overdone, being slow, syrupy and romantic, but this is good. They're perfect vessels for Shanker's sweet tone. (Posi-Tone)