For a debut release Drazen is seemingly not content to merely play it safe with some more standard tunes with accompanying interpretations such as "Polka Dots And Moonbeams." Drazen is not afraid to venture outside the acceptable norms of the traditional tenor player and become more of a sonic assassin and he does this exceptionally well on music that borders on the musical happy place somewhere between the spiritual and mystical with "Prayer for Brothers Gone" and the harmonic roller coaster of "Jazz Heaven" all seemingly constructed with that "Monkish" flavor that is instantly recognizable.
A reliable ebb and flow is a universal constant with a Posi-Tone release but the ability to pull of the musical diversity without hitting on the self indulgent and totally losing the audience after about the first minute is a rare feat indeed but Drazen makes the process appear easy. While the alto would appear to be Drazen's weapon of choice, his soprano work on the title track "Inner Flights" is full of vim and vigor and the perfect example of the working variety mentioned earlier. Pianist Jon Davis shares some of the solo work with Drazen but a highly effective change of pace is giving drummer Eric McPherson the chance to stretch out and prove he far more than a human metronome behind the kit. McPherson rides the groove well and does more than play from a comfortable position within the pocket - he owns it! A personal favorite would be "Jazz Heaven" where harmonics, not to forget dynamics are literally shifted on the fly. The band rolled from straight swing to Latin with a carefully articulated free form bridge connecting the two. McPherson is again allowed to shine giving this formidable 4tet a three dimensional sonic depth of field pulled off with flair and attitude while never self indulgent.
From the more adventurous bop oriented material to the introspective ballad there is something for everyone while maintaining a well thought out ebb and flow. There were a dozen or so good debut releases for 2011. Inner Flights is simply one of the half dozen of the very best debut releases over the last several years. A new release is but a snap shot in time and that being the case, Drazen is an artist to keep your eyes and your ears on as the next chapter in his artistic portfolio begins to take shape. Incredibly entertaining and a must for the collector. If this is the one that got past you last year then do not feel bad, I missed at first but a release well worth your time!
Tracks: Mr. Twilight; Monkish; Prayer For Brothers Gone By; Jazz Heaven; Inner Flights; Neeney's Waltz; This Is New; Kickin Up Dirt; Polka Dots And Moonbeams.
Personnel: Benjamin Drazen: saxophones; Jon Davis: piano; Carlo De Rosa: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.