, August 2000
This is a gem. Lan Xang is a highly creative improvisational group from New York (although all members were originally West Coasters) that produces music that fascinates, and challenges. I have listened to this CD about 10 times, and it gets better every time. The quartet is:
Kenny Wollesen - drums, percussion
Scott Colley - bass, percussion
Donny McCaslin - tenor and soprano sax
David Binney - alto sax, clarinet
The group name Lan Xang, which comes from 14th Century East Asian history, was an ancient empire that originated from what is now Laos and ruled much of the Indochina region for over 300 years. "The Land of A Million Elephants" was what the region was called. The name in Laos carries associations of cultural kinship among people that bridged local isolation and divisions. Since the concept behind the quartet is to incorporate anything into the music regardless of genre, the Lan Xang moniker relates quite appropriately. It was bassist Colley who first came up with the name.
"We were looking for a band name that would not necessarily be associated with Jazz music," saxophonist Donny McCaslin explains on behalf of the group. "We wanted something that wouldn't confine us stylistically and that would be interesting and different." What the group has achieved is not so much music that isn't jazz, but music that represents what jazz should be. Music that is a new creation altogether; innovative, rhythmically charged, and poignant.
Lan Xang is more proof that jazz just keeps getting better. Wollesen and Colley form a bass/drum duo that is among the best I've ever heard. And McCaslin and Binney play harmonies and counterpoint lines that sound rich and full. Add to that some well-chosen sound samples that just seem to fade in from outer space, plus a willingness to blend in atmospheric Eastern sounds and you have a record that is both unique, and a pleasure to listen to and study. Although this group does more than it's fair share of experimenting, which will disqualify it for some listeners out there, it is music that always paints a unique picture of sound, and is never boring.