Elias Haslanger – Kicks are for Kids

Elias Haslanger
Kicks are for Kids
by J. Barrett

Kicks are for KidsThere is an assertiveness you feel once it starts turning. It says “Listen.” The bass doesn’t walk – it swaggers. The drums, recorded with no echo, nail the beat to the wall. And then he arrives. A loud tough riff, reserved for the hardest of bop. You see the fresh-faced kid on the cover, and you wonder. And you listen. It could be from the early ‘Sixties: the sax twists its pungent tone through a series of convolutions – not rehearsed, but felt. The solo’s a minute long, and it’s enough. He’s ready. The band might be slightly older than he, but not much. They stand tall, from warm piano to dry trumpet, and you don’t buy it for the players’ “future potential” – it’s worth hearing now. And if you think I’m hyping Elias, wait ’til I tell you what others are saying.

The title cut shows he can blow hot. Next up is “Patience”, built on the low rumbles of J. J. Johnson’s cymbals. It’s a gentle thing, a simple line on which the warmth rises, causing Elias to percolate at the end of the theme. Edwin Livingston bows a solo with a more “classical” sound than any I’ve heard; it fits the mood. When Elias returns, he lights on a three-note figure, repeats it on higher, then climbs the tower. Tito Carrillo brings in the brass, his steady line setting the stage for the sax to take off.

The tone will impress you. When deep, it’s got that classic guttural edge on the bottom; up high, it trembles with an alto-like tinge, and sometimes he squeaks, in the good Coltrane sense (don’t worry, I’ll get to it). He knows his history, as does pianist Fredrick Sanders, who is delightfully lush when the tune requires it (on “Two Tone” he even plays Red Garland block chords – when’s the last time you heard THEM?) Carrillo is not a flashy trumpet, but it’s a good solid tone; he and Elias get along famously. And yet it doesn’t sound sterile, a youngster’s attempt to ape the masters. No – you’re sure they mean it, and feel it. And when I listen, I feel it too.

On “Eugene and Marie” we get our special guest, one experienced with talented youth. Ellis Marsalis lays the chords for Elias, who now goes the “gentle force” route of the Lester/Ammons school. It’s not in that class, but oh is it close! Marsalis finds no need to play superstar; his solo is stately and fits this like a glove. And then Elias returns, as silky smooth as ever. I thought they didn’t make ’em like this any more; it seems they do.

Excepting “Just Squeeze Me’, Elias had a hand in writing all of these. I hear no paraphrases of great tunes, and yet they sound very familiar – many would not be out of place on your favorite reissue. His tastes run to hard bop – “Dweet Di Diddle It” is a rip-snorting blues of that class. “History Book” (that could be the album’s subtitle) is a mid-tempo tune like “Eugene and Marie” – Elias surges on this one, and Carrillo gets mellow in a wonderful way. “Free for Three” is a sax-bass-drums collective composition – an improvisation? Elias winds a figure on the top; his solo is one long variation on this, so perhaps this IS free improv. Livingston gives the good juicy bass funk, and Johnson’s drums have the same feel as “Kicks Are For Kids.” It’s a highlight, and it should be enough to show all that these kids are for real. Near the end Elias picks up a soprano, does some oboe-like figures, and then blasts a delicious squawk. That wasn’t expected, and neither was an album this good.

“Just Squeeze Me” is similar to “Eugene and Marie” – Marsalis is at the keys, and Elias goes old style. This time he has so much vibrato he sounds like Coleman Hawkins! Marsalis’ comping is full, with lots of nice bluesy touches. He’s enjoying himself, you can tell. We then close with another version of “Kicks Are For Kids”, this one played on soprano. Frankly, on soprano he is less distinctive, and the better version was put in the top slot. Sanders’ solo is better than in the tenor version, and Carrillo’s is quite good. It ends an album of impressive strength and great talent.

Now about this “Coltrane” business. The cover sticker has quotes from Jazz Times and Billboard, each comparing Elias to John Coltrane. There is a resemblance; his sound reminds one of Trane in the Prestige ‘Fifties, right when the talent was about to flower. I wouldn’t saddle the guy with such a burden – let him play without expectations. But there’s something going on here. Elias Haslanger has talent, vibrant energy, and a great sense of history. I can’t wait to see what he does with it!

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Recommended for a sterling band, good compositions, and a major statement by a rising star.

Songs: Kicks Are For Kids; Patience; Two Tone; Eugene and Marie; Dweet Di Diddle It; History Book; Easy Walk; Free for Three; Just Squeeze Me; Kicks Are For Kids.

Musicians: Elias Haslanger (tenor and soprano saxes); Tito Carrillo (trumpet); Fredrick Sanders or Ellis Marsalis (piano); Edwin Livingston (bass); J. J. Johnson (drums).