Colin Stranahan

Life Condition

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Drummer Colin Stranahan is a student at the Monk Institute in New Orleans and an alumnus of the Denver School of the Arts, and began gigging when he was just 11 years old. Now in his twenties, he has released his third album as a leader, and it's both intellectually fascinating and visceral. What makes it even more impressive is that it manages to be both interesting and involving without the use of any chordal instruments: his trio consists of himself, bassist Chris Smith, and alto saxophonist Ben Van Gelder (tenor player Jake Saslow guests on two tracks, "For the Third Time" and "A Promise"). Playing without a piano or guitar to provide harmonic context can make a date like this one sound dry and abstract, and it's true that dryness and abstraction are sometimes the hallmarks of these tunes; but at their best (such as on a lovely rendition of "How Deep Is the Ocean" and the calm but inquisitive "Birthday Song"), the performers use that extra sonic space wisely, filling it with enough notes to make the music's structure clear, but not so many that it sounds crowded or frantic. At times, such as on the slightly more chaotic setting of Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," things wander a bit and the music loses focus. But such missteps are rare, and are easily overshadowed by such highlights as the joyful romp of "A Promise" and a sharply reimagined version of Thelonious Monk's "Evidence." This is a very, very impressive effort from a major (and startlingly young) talent.

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