Smart bandleaders know that if you want you band to sound good, nothing’s more important than a good drummer. You’ll hear a lot of musical differences between jazz saxophonist Greg Ward, Afrobeat combo NOMO, tropically tinged pop group Wild Belle and folk/jazz/prog singer Ryley Walker. But they’ll all tell you the same thing about Quin Kirchner: He makes their band sound good. Given his versatility, Kirchner faces an existential challenge when he puts on boss cap: What music is really his?
The Shadows And The Light affirms Kirchner’s allegiance to a jazz lineage that stretches back half a century. To a time when Sun Ra was trying to redeem us with the lure of heading for space, and when the bands soundtracking your movies and TV shows were led by and populated with folks with bonafide jazz chops. This sprawling double album is well-stocked with swinging cadences, richly textured horn riffs and pithy, expressive solos played by a gallery of crack, Chicago-based musicians. Seven sidemen step in and out from track to track as needed, which ensures variety and keeps the music from ever sounding too busy. The material is split between Kirchner’s originals and 20th-century chestnuts by Ra, Carla Bley, Kelan Phil Cohran and Frank Foster. While it feels like a crime not to give a shout out to all of the musicians, Nate Lepine’s flute and Rob Clearfield’s electric piano deserve particular acknowledgement for the spiritual, ‘70s vibe they evoke. And Kirchner’s own playing does just what it’s done for all his employers: make the band sound good.