Elias Haslanger

Kicks Are for Kids (Heart Music)

In 1983, pianist Rich Harney released The Promise, an LP that, for many years, stood as the definitive straight-ahead Austin jazz album. What made this record so memorable was how well it crystallized the Austin scene at that particular time, a scene largely centered around the now long-defunct club Piggy's. It's taken a while, and times have certainly changed, but no album since then has better captured the spirit of the local scene at a given moment than this new one from saxman Haslanger and his esteemed colleagues. Kicks Are for Kids is the leader's fourth release under his own name, and what becomes immediately apparent is how he and his group -- pianist Fredrick Sanders, bassist Edwin Livingston, and drummer J.J. Johnson -- have matured considerably as players in the two years since their last recorded outing. They demonstrate a confidence, intuitive cohesion, and innate feeling for the music that comes directly from having performed live together consistently in local clubs for the past several years. They sound unmistakably like a seasoned band rather than a soloist and his trio. Perhaps even more important from an artist's standpoint is that Haslanger has departed from his penchant for mostly standards and is, at last, recording his own outstanding compositions. Save for a beautiful reading of an Ellington evergreen, "Just Squeeze Me," this is an entire set of Haslanger originals, from the soulful groove of the title track to the apparently impromptu exploration of "Free for Three." Trumpeter Tito Carrillo and New Orleans patriarch Ellis Marsalis contribute along the way, but this is primarily about the Elias Haslanger Quartet and how it has developed into a potently swingin', first-rate ensemble.
4 stars -- Jay Trachtenberg

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