The Keith Yaun Quintet

Leo Lab / CD047

Keith Yaun / guitar, Mat Maneri / electric violin, Nathan Cook / tenor sax, John Lockwood / bass, Johnny McLellan / drums

He has a pretty standard bebop sound marred, now and again, by imperfect technique, but considerably enhanced by a strong imagination. His solos are flowing affairs, sometimes dissonant but always within the world of bop harmony. An album like this one, then, might seem an odd place to find a player like Keith Yaun. Yes, this is themes-and-solos stuff, but its feel is much more fluid, and particularly more open to group interaction, than the work of the neo-hard-bop brigade.

Lockwood is, of course, a known quantity, providing rock-solid, muscular accompaniment. McLellan is perhaps less of a name, but his flexible approach is proactive enough to cope with this rather open-ended music. At their best — which is most of the time — these two provide a precarious, anything-could-happen framework which seems to hover in the air, about to spring into action, like a goalkeeper facing a penalty.

Any opportunity to hear Mat Mereri is to be seized with both hands; his is a genuinely unique voice on the violin and his lumpen, gliding harmonics have a logic all of their own. Sit with him for a while and he starts to sound like something very special indeed. Cook, on the other hand, is a pretty generic bop-to-free player; he neither distinguishes nor disgraces himself here, although his contributions to the head arrangements are pretty much indispensible.

Yaun himself sometimes struggles here, as with his own Dolphyesque “Runup”, which is taken at a tempo he clearly finds uncomfortable. In the more spacious passages, he is able to play within his competence and some nice ideas emerge, though he does have some maturing to do if he is to leave behind the licks and the vague sketchy shapes to hone his playing to a point where execution matches conception. The quality of that conception is evidenced by the four strong compositions which he contributes to this session, and it will be interesting to see how he develops from here. Richard Cochrane