Parting Shot (Golpe de Partida) is an extraordinary debut for the guitarist, Steve Khan. He is veteran by any stretch of imagination, but in the company of illustrious peers such as Al Di Meola, Lee Ritenour and others he appears almost self-effacing for this is his first full foray into the realm of the Latin American musical idiom. Khan has always been known for possessing near-perfect technique, which when combined with his whisper-soft expression produces a flawless, soaring dynamic. Although Khan has played decades ago with the likes of Manolo Badrena—himself a veteran of bands such as Weather Report and Joe Zawinul—the guitarist waited, it seems, for the Latin American idiom to mature in him like rare wine before he actually cut his first full record playing that music. And it is a priceless album.
First of all, the music flows with the kind of hip-swish that only someone with Khan’s fluency could imbue it. Although this is a characteristic throughout the album it is brilliantly audible on Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya”. Here Khan not only captures the deep blue swagger of the piece, but also its other moist colors. Moreover, Khan is a guitarist who plays with acute angularity and this makes him someone who is closer to Monk than most. His melodic leaps tell a story of the innate wildness of his imagination. How Khan has managed to keep this hidden is anyone’s guess. He also brings this defiant streak to bear as he tackles two of Ornette Coleman’s complex charts. Both “Chronology” and “Blues Connotation” are compositions from the early days of that composer’s Harmolodic inventions and are, as such, extraordinarily adventurous. Khan tackles both charts with flair and a dexterity that seems to suggest that he has mastered some of the most difficult music since that of Monk’s and Herbie Nichols’.
Next, and probably most notable of all, is the fact that Khan has composed all of the other charts on the album himself. This is quite an achievement in itself and might indicate that the guitarist has been preparing for a long time to make an album honouring the Latin American music tradition. That being the case Khan deserves much honour in return. His music is not only stylish and extremely sophisticated, but also rhythmically authentic. A chart like “Los Gaiteros” could have been written by a sublime master of Latin American music, for instance and although the other titles have English names, they are more authentically Latin. Even the benign ballad “When She’s Not Here” shakes and swoops like the beautiful cha-cha-cha that it is, and while Khan soars harmonically the percussionists are truly magnificent as they lay the groundwork for Dennis Chambers’ superb solo. What’s more the augmented and diminished pattern that drives the whole percussion sequence brings the song home in dramatic fashion.
It is also true that the percussionists led by Chambers and Badrena, who also co-wrote the wonderful “María Mulambo,” lay down the rhythmic style with sophistication and a mighty shuffle. Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende are also superb and play with understated elegance as they embellish the music with memorable and almost melodic rhythm. It would be remiss not to mention bassist Anthony Jackson, who, like Khan is also a rather diffident musician, but has been baptized through the fire by the likes of Michel Camilo. It is almost certain that Steve Khan would not have made so perfect a record without Jackson anchoring the bass role with understated, but characteristic elegance.
2. Los Gaiteros
3. Change Agent
5. María Mulambo
6. Influence Peddler
7. When She’s Not Here
8. Blues Connotation
10. Just Deserts.
Steve Khan: guitar; Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar; Dennis Chambers: drums; Manolo Badrena: percussion, voice (5, 10); Marc Quiñones: timbal, bongo, percussion; Bobby Allende: conga; Rob Mounsey: keyboards (9), orchestrations (2, 4, 6, 7); Tatiana Parra: voice (6); Andreas Beeuwaert: voice (6).
Steve Khan on the web: www.stevekhan.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama