Steve Khan | Patchwork
by Stamish Malcuss
Guitarist Steve Khan is the son of famed lyricist Sammy Cahn, best known for his four-time Oscar-winning songs, including the famous song “Three Coins in the Fountain,” and his most enduring “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” co-written with Jule Styne in 1945. Khan comes by his genius honestly.
A fixture in the jazz, fusion, and Latin jazz genre since 1969, he has appeared as a leader and guest artist on countless recordings. His association with supergroups Eyewitness, Brecker Brothers, Joe Zawinul, and Caribbean Jazz Project, including his leader releases that stack up twenty-two deep, add up to a seminal career. His latest release, Patchwork, is a distinctly Latin jazz offering. Khan is joined by keyboardist Rob Mounsey with bassist Rubén Rodríguez and Bobby Allende on conga, Marc Quiñones on timbal, bongo, and percussion and preeminent drummer Dennis Chambers. Guest artists include Randy Brecker on flugelhorn and Bob Mintzer on tenor sax.
Ornette Colman’s “C. & D.” has a vivacious salsa-jazz feel that defines Khan’s deep understanding of Latin jazz. The opening montuno is modern and introduces the angular melody perfectly. Khan’s guitar tone and phrasing are very ‘horn’ like, something guitarists strive for, but few ever really achieve. Bob Mintzer appears in this song. The percussion adds energy as Rodríguez keeps the samba pattern while still communicating with the soloist. Khan’s solo is a tour de force, legato lines are accented by chords, and he uses effects at crucial moments in the solo to add a sonic texture that further gives his solo impact. The arrangement is creative; a montuno gives Quiñones solo space while still keeping the energy and music flowing.
“Naan Issue,” by Khan, is a medium tempo cha cha with a stunning melody, chordal motif, and space for Khan to stretch-out and play an extended solo. My favorite setting to hear a great improviser is in a medium tempo; this really lets the player’s articulation repertoire come through. Khan does not disappoint. Each phrase of his solo lines between the chordal figures is an adventure in articulation. From legato bebop lines to bending blues figures, Khan effortlessly spins out the textures with flawlessly clean technique. His time feel is so relaxed and in the pocket that when he does push and pull the beat, it has such depth and purpose it makes the line have even more power. Khan is a tremendous improviser, and “Naan Issue” has five minutes of pure improvisational delight by Khan.
Patchwork is a fantastic ensemble taking us through a series of beautifully arranged jazz tunes and one Khan original, all within the Latin jazz genre. The guest players add sonic variance and Khan’s guitar sound pallet also adds to the many textures. Khan’s improvising is astounding on every selection and a great study in modern Latin jazz guitar playing at a technical level. The ensemble is listening and interactive with each other, and each song has an exciting form. It simply does not get any better than that!