- "PATCHWORK" was finally released on September 20th, 2019 in the USA. The original release date had been scheduled for September 6th, but due to a series of manufacturing screw-ups, the release was delayed twice setting in motion problems at both radio and press. It goes without saying that it was awful and incredibly stressful. Add to that, for the first time in many years, there was to be no domestic release in Japan, nor in Germany/Europe. Now, the first reviews have been published.
First reaction from Jazz radio! On the day of the radio mailing (8/29), both digital and CDs, Jerry Gordon @ WPRB-FM, Princeton, New Jersey wrote: "Another Masterpiece! Congratulations, Steve. Another great one! Listening now. Some great surprises like 'The Journey Home.' All great. Fusion? You were there first!" He then went on to write "A Shade Of Jade. A fully-realized masterpiece. Randy just killed it, a perfect solo. You have had an incredible career, and are at your peak skills, playing and arranging." And about "Huracán Clare" he wrote: "Fabulous!" Best, Jerry"
What a wonderful way to start! And so, the ride begins...
First reaction from Jazz radio! On the day of the radio mailing (8/29), both digital and CDs, Tom Schnabel @ KCRW-FM, Santa Monica, California and his brilliant "Rhythm Planet" program [How well I remember his prior and unforgettable program, "Morning Becomes Eclectic"] wrote: I've been listening over and over to your new CD, something I rarely do. Your new band, all the tropical Latin artists, even the baby bass instead of the Fender. Good. I remember your Arista/Novus LP, "EVIDENCE" and thought about it when I was listening to "Epistrophy." I love the way you don't smother the music with too many notes. You hold back at bit, judiciously choosing what to play, the music is just fantastic. Congratulations on the new album.
Reaction from France and Jazz magazine! Great writer, Frédèric Goaty opined the following in brief: Steve Khan T. & T. "Fort de son immense culture jazz, le guitariste new-yorkais a toujours le chic pour (re) mettre en valeur des thèmes un peu oubliés, tel celui-ci, d'Ornette Coleman. En y ajoutant bien sûr sa touche latin jazz très contemporaine. Où ça?" "PATCHWORK" Medio Mezclado(Tone Center) Import/USA, sortie 20/9.
- The first full-scale REVIEW of "PATCHWORK" penned by their great senior writer, John Kelman was a real magnum opus if ever there was one. Ever thoughtful and extremely detailed one just can't hope for a much better review than this one. It is only fitting that it appears first!
Amongst the many myths out there about music-making - especially in jazz, where the improvisation quotient is often so high - is that composing may, indeed, be work, but doesn't require the kind of relentless attention to detail that far more truthfully defines how many artists write and arrange their music. These days, one need only look to music by artists including Pat Metheny, Antonio Sanchez and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah to find music conceived with intimate and painstaking detail while, at the same time, possessed of plenty of interpretive and improvisational freedom.
But for a real window into just how much consideration, time and sweat goes into conceiving a single tune (let alone an entire album), just take a look at the news section of Steve Khan's website where, in addition to other regular (and enlightening) bits and bobs, the guitarist regularly posts detailed notes about the conception and execution of his recordings.
Case in point: Khan's notes about Patchwork, the guitarist's fourth installment in a most decided and inimitable exploration of the nexus point where jazz guitar and Latin/Afro Cuban rhythms meet. His website notes reveal, with extraordinary honesty, everything from crises of confidence and moments of grand inspiration to the cornerstones of his ever-imaginative arrangements and much, much more.
Those who've followed Khan's career over the decades know that he's been moving towards this truly unique intersection point for a long time. The Latin influences are crystal clear on earlier Tone Center albums of the new millennium, like 2007's Borrowed Time and 2005's The Green Field.
Still, the guitarist's love affair with all things Latin actually dates further back still, to albums like Public Access (GRP, 1989) (recently collected, almost in its entirety, on BGO Records' 2018 double-disc set Public Access / Headline / Crossings). And while a little less overtly so, there are still plenty of hints of what's to come across Khan's three early '80s Eyewitness band albums, recently reissued, again by BGO, on its 2016 two- CD set, The Eyewitness Trilogy, which collects Eyewitness (Antilles, 1981), Modern Times (Trio Records, 1982) and Casa Loco (Antilles, 1984).
But beyond Khan's gradual, relatively late in life emergence as the preeminent guitarist in Latin jazz, there's another thread that connects every entry in what has, with, now expanded to a quadrilogy. Literally every album, from 2011's Parting Shot through 2014's Subtext to 2017's Backlog seemed, at the time, like it would be Khan's last.
And yet, from fearing loss of inspiration to physical issues that might have brought his days as a guitarist to an end (but, thankfully, have not), with each album since Parting Shot Khan has not only continued to hone his distinctive marriage of the many facets and touchstones of his musical career into a Latin-informed musical context; he's also managed to raise his game significantly with each successive release.
After a slight personnel detour with Backlog, where Khan's longtime first-call drummer Dennis Chambers was replaced by the equally talented but alternately focused Mark Walker (Oregon, Caribbean Jazz Project, Lyle Mays), the veteran Brecker Brothers, John Scofield, Steely Dan and John McLaughlin stick man is back, once again teaming seamlessly with percussionists Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende, along with Ruben Rodriguez, who has been Khan's recent bassist of choice.
As irrefutably fine as the lineup on Backlog was, it's great to have Chambers back in the fold, giving Patchwork the same kind of effortless energy and percussion simpatico as Parting Shot and, in particular, Subtext, where longtime Khan contrabassist Anthony Jackson was replaced, permanently it would seem, by Rodriguez, who first appeared with Khan as a guest on three of Borrowed Time's nine tracks.
Perhaps the biggest shift, personnel-wise, with Patchwork is the far greater participation of keyboardist, composer and arranger Rob Mounsey. A longtime Khan collaborator with a résumé that includes, amongst many others, Steely Dan, James Taylor and Paul Simon, not to mention his 1987 Denon/Passport duo recording with Khan, Local Color and its 1998 follow-up You Are Here, Mounsey has contributed, increasingly, to all of the guitarist's albums beginning with Borrowed Time. But this time, rather than receiving a "guest musician" credit, Mounsey receives, for the first time, a full band member listing. Between his astute keyboard parts, compelling orchestrations and, on two tracks, full orchestral arrangements, Mounsey's contributions to Patchwork's warm sonics and harmonic sophistications simply cannot be understated.
Since Parting Shot, Khan has gradually moved away from his own writing, with that album's seven original compositions/co-compositions reducing to Subtext's three and Backlog's none. Khan's focus may, indeed, have leaned further away from original composition, moving more decidedly towards imaginative and innovative Latin-inflected rearrangements (both harmonically and, perhaps most importantly, rhythmically) of music written by artists including, most prominently, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Bobby Hutcherson. But the guitarist's interpretive skills are so strong, so vivid and so inimitable, that even an evergreen tune like Monk's "Epistrophy" feels as much Khan's as it does the original (and similarly unparalleled) composer's.
Khan's connection to Monk dates back to his extraordinary Evidence (Arista Novus, 1980), a solo album that, with multiple layers of overdubbed guitar parts (and, on one track, percussion) and creative arrangements of music by artists including Shorter, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Joe Zawinul and Randy Brecker, was the first signal that Khan's fusion leanings were on the wane, and that the guitarist's approach to both his instrument and harmony were in the midst of a major paradigm shift that would become clearer still with the release of the quartet-driven Eyewitness the following year. The second side of Evidence is devoted to a medley that, clocking in at over eighteen minutes and seamlessly moving through nine Monk tunes, is the highlight of an album that represents, truly, a series of watershed moments for the guitarist.
In retrospect it's something of a surprise that Khan's Monk medley did not include "Epistrophy," the legendary pianist/composer's very first copyrighted composition from 1941, co-written with Kenny Clarke - who, at the time, was the musical director of New York City's Minton's Playhouse (located in Harlem), where the drummer had put together a house band that, in addition to Monk, also featured trumpeter Joe Guy and bassist Nick Fenton. But if fans of Khan's regular visits to Monk territory have had to wait nearly forty years to hear the guitarist deliver the definitive, Latin-informed take on "Epistrophy" that opens Patchwork, it's been well worth it.
"Epistrophy" was, in fact, the seed that eventually grew into Patchwork, its germination stemming from a conversation with Mark Walker in July, 2018 that not only led to Khan's arranging the tune with an Afro-Cuban 6/8 pulse (actually, a blend of 6/8 and a swinging six-over-four rhythm) but, with no firm idea for a new album in mind, quickly led to six more arrangements in a period of just six weeks. As Khan enthuses on his website, "To have relocated my creative center felt like a miracle - because I was certain that it was never going to visit me again."
Listening to the finished result, it seems incredulous that Khan had any doubts about his ability to find inspiration for his fourth "final" recording. Once again revisiting regular inspirations Monk (with "Epistrophy") and Coleman ("C. & D." and ""T. & T.," both from the saxophonist's 1962 Atlantic classic, Ornette!, from which Khan had already reworked "R.P.D.D." for his 1996 Evidence date, Got My Mental), Khan continues to mine Bobby Hutcherson's Happenings (Blue Note, 1967), this time adding his gorgeous look at the balladic "Bouquet" to the fiercer "Head Start" and more ambling "Rojo" that both appeared on Backlog.
"Epistrophy" opens Patchwork with the kind of patience that has defined Khan since he deserted fusion forty years ago, with a two-chord vamp driven by the percussion section lasting for a full half minute before Khan moves to Monk's familiar theme, albeit supported by Mounsey in a fashion that may appear to have little to do with Monk directly, but is, in fact, more clearly connected than it might seem with its its skewed harmonic angularity. Add Khan's solo, which blends jagged but still soft-toned phrases with the occasional seamless injection of a harmonizer to broaden Khan's scope, and Chambers' exhilarating extemporizing as the song fades on the same two changes as the intro, and "Epistrophy" sets a high bar for the rest of Patchwork.
A high bar that's not only met but, in a variety of ways, exceeded throughout the rest of the album. Both of Khan's Coleman arrangements continue to assert the guitarist's remarkable ability to evoke surprising harmonies from music that, at best, only intimated them as a result of Coleman's regular use of chord-less groups on Ornette! and many other recordings from the time. Veteran Yellowjackets saxophonist Bob Mintzer makes a return guest appearance from Backlog on "C. & D.," a song Khan describes as "originally conceived to be played as a songo but ended up being mostly a son montuno." Beyond Mintzer's ever-impressive tenor work, Mounsey's keys flesh out the arrangement, with Khan delivering another solo that combines single-note melodies with electronically harmonized passages.
"T. & T.," another upbeat arrangement of a Coleman tune from Ornette!, is based on the Mozambique rhythm that Ed Blackwell intimated on the original, bass- less feature for the drummer. Likely as a tribute to the late Blackwell, Khan's arrangement for "T. & T." is largely a feature for Chambers, Quiñones and Allende, though the guitarist does take a little time to himself on the fade-out, combining unequivocal respect for Coleman's theme with some truly surprising injections, just as the song fades to black. Joe Henderson is another semi-regular touchstone for Khan, the guitarist adding the bright-tempo'd "A Shade of Jade" to Patchwork, having already included "Caribbean Fire Dance," from the saxophonist's Mode for Joe (Blue Note, 1966), on both Headline (Blue Moon, 1992) and the archival live recording from 1994, The Suitcase (Tone Center, 2008), alongside the title track from Inner Urge (Blue Note, 1966), which received the Khan treatment on Crossings (Verve Forecast, 1993).
Here, "A Shade of Jade" is most notable for Randy Brecker's virtuosic flügelhorn solo, which combines light-speed lines with equally effortless reaches up into the stratosphere, along with some three-part horn overdubs that Khan had written for the trumpeter but, as Khan relates, "other than a few horn stabs, I never expected that Randy would actually perform them all." The result, beyond Brecker's exceptional solo, which also injects singable melodies into his more visceral instrumental acumen, is the first time that Khan has employed any kind of horn section since his early fusion albums for Columbia (1977's Tightrope, 1978's The Blue Man and 1979's Arrows), all collected into a two-CD set by BGO in 2015.
In yet another collection that finds Khan raising his game on all fronts, Patchwork's arrangement of Bobby Hutcherson's "Bouquet" is a particular high point. Khan first performed the song during occasional all-acoustic duo gigs with fellow six-stringer, Larry Coryell, the cream of the crop documented on Two for the Road (Arista, 1977), the first release to feature Khan's name on the marquee (albeit shared with Coryell). All too often, it's artists' more up-tempo work that gets the lion's share of the notice, but the truth is that ballads are often the more difficult to play, as the existence (ideally) of a lot of space in the music frequently challenges musicians when it comes to both time and choices.
Performed as a bolero, with its harmonic underpinning reflecting an unmistakable voice that dates back to Khan's earliest recordings, Mounsey's orchestrations for "Bouquet" entice some of Khan's finest steel-string acoustic guitar playing to date, driven gently by Chambers' subtle brush work and similarly tasty percussion from Quiñones and Allende. It's difficult to overstate just how successful Khan's reading is, here, of one of Hutcherson's best compositions from one of his most memorable Blue Note recordings from the '60s.
Khan has only visited the music of Keith Jarrett once before, rearranging "Common Mama," from the pianist's sole Columbia date, Expectations (1972), for Got My Mental. But that only makes it an even greater treat to hear the guitarist cull a tune from the pianist's much-lauded "European Quartet," specifically "The Journey Home," from Jarrett's 1978 ECM album My Song, as an even deeper combination of the balladic and rhythmically propulsive on Patchwork. Khan once again makes the song his own, in a 15-minute episodic interpretation that takes Jarrett's musical intentions even further.
A stunningly beautiful rubato duet intro, featuring Khan's gorgeous nylon-string guitar work and Mounsey's dark-hued Fender Rhodes and subsequent orchestrations, leads into the cha-cha-cha-driven second section, where Khan's warm-toned electric guitar evokes all of Jarrett's melodic and harmonic ideations and more. His lengthy solo unfolds slowly, the absolute epitome of taste and restraint, with overdubbed, whammy bar-driven Stratocaster chords adding further tension and release.
As the piece moves into its third section (really two parts in 3/4 and 9/8 respectively), through-composition re-emerges as Khan moves, first, from a melody that gradually evolves with the addition of wordless vocals from Khan and singer Tatiana Parra (back from Parting Shot and Backlog), leading to an elegant synth solo from Mounsey that gradually builds towards the song's ultimate fade-out, with Chambers not exactly featured but nevertheless driving the song to its inevitable conclusion through a remarkable stylistic cross-pollination of, as Khan describes it, "gospel music, R&B, and jazz and jazz fusion."
Potent stuff, all making "The Journey Home," despite being Patchwork's penultimate track, somehow feel like its centerpiece.
While largely sourcing his music from jazz composers, it's a rare Steve Khan album that doesn't include at least one song from the Great American Songbook, and Patchwork is no exception. A beautiful, string-augmented arrangement of the Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane classic "Too Late Now" graces Patchwork. A song originally written for Stanley Donan's 1951 film Royal Wedding but recorded many times since, it's singer Nancy Wilson's version on Tender Loving Care (Capitol, 1966), with orchestral arrangements written and conducted by Billy May, that was the inspiration for Khan's own arrangement.
If Khan's love and respect for Mays' orchestral work on the Nancy Wilson version is clear, so, too, are his similar feelings for Mounsey, whose own orchestral contributions to Khan's arrangement of the song for Patchwork are just as impressive, with the song also reflecting the two musicians' clear love for keyboardist/composer/arranger Clare Fischer. Khan's solo evokes the emotional intent of the song (love and love lost), with surprising injections of bluesy bends and, as ever, an ability to say so much without ever saying too much. Khan may generally eschew overt displays of virtuosity but he's not afraid to pull them out when circumstances call for it, injecting the occasional light-speed run without ever losing sight of the song's overall context and heart.
Khan also delivers some surprisingly virtuosic work, this time on nylon-string guitar, for "Huracán Clare," an album-closer with an unusual backstory. Jorge Estrada's composition is, indeed, a curious inclusion in that its instrumental core came from a session that Khan did for bassist/producer Jimmy Haslip and the composer, intended as part of a planned tribute project to Fischer. When it became clear that the track and project was not going to be finished and released, Khan offered to try something a little different for Estrada: let Khan's Patchwork group record the tune as the guitarist envisioned it, while still including all of Estrada's principal parts.
With the advent of DIY studios, the idea of musicians recording their parts separately but bringing them together through file sharing is far from novel; still, the idea of having a group record a version of a song but also including original parts from a completely different session is. And between the rubato melody that appears at various points throughout the song (again bolstered by the guitarist's wordless vocals), a bright-tempo'd main section that leads to Khan's fiery guitar solo, Allende's fiery conga feature and an equally impressive electric piano solo from Estrada, it brings Patchwork to a fitting close.
Or does it?
The CD clearly features only nine tunes, closing with "Huracán Clare," but there was, in fact, a tenth piece arranged and recorded for Patchwork. With insufficient space to include it on a CD that already clocks in at nearly 78 minutes, Khan's relatively short, largely through-composed arrangement of Eden Ahbez's 1947 classic, "Nature Boy," is, nevertheless, a compelling look at another evergreen tune that has something of is own unusual backstory.
First recorded by Nat "King" Cole and released as a single the following year, it unexpectedly garnered the pianist/singer a wider white audience at a time when there was a major race divide in American music, making it difficult to build a broader fan base for African American artists. Khan wrote his arrangement for Rekha Ohal, a Denver-based singer asked to sing the song at a wedding but mistakenly telling Khan that it was for a funeral. And so, with "funeral" in mind, the guitarist crafted a short arrangement that, in its indigo beauty, stands as a most unusual reading of this popular song, interpreted as a simple bolero. Khan's band nailed the arrangement in one take during the recording of Patchwork, but since there wasn't room to squeeze the nearly three-minute arrangement onto the CD Khan's inimitable look at "Nature Boy" is now available as a bonus track in the digital domain.
Finally, if Backlog was a rare Khan recording not to feature at least one original composition, the guitarist returns to writing with "Naan Issue," inspired, harmonically, by the title track to guitar legend Wes Montgomery's Movin' Along (Riverside, 1960) but rhythmically driven as a cha-cha-cha. The organically symbiotic blend of Chambers, Quiñones and Allende, in combination with Rodriguez's ever-pliant yet firm anchor creates a perfect vehicle for Khan, his warm-toned hollowbody electric solo blending rare linear conceptions with chordal passages of similarly distinctive harmonic constructions and, since this is, after all, an altered blues, the occasional bluesy bend, and long tones defined by Khan's unmistakable vibrato.
The chemistry of Khan's core group has never sounded this good, nor has the diversity of the material and its reinterpretations been so profoundly broad. Khan's reputation as a guitarist has never achieved the kind of acclaim and attention that his still-living, late sixties/early seventies guitar colleagues including Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell have managed, though Khan remains a guitarist's guitarist amongst those in the know. While his restrained reverence to the heart of a song is, perhaps, best comparable to Frisell, the two couldn't be more different; and while his virtuosic capabilities are clearly something kept in careful check (and for the same reason), when Khan does let loose with some guitar gymnastics, as he does on rare occasion here and on previous recordings, it's clear that he's no less an instrumental master than any of his other colleagues, whether they be in his age group or from younger generations.
It also bears noting that as impeccable and detailed as Khan is in approaching everything he does musically, it's his collaborations with other musicians, arrangers/orchestrators, and with both engineers and pre-/post-production assistance that continue to contribute to the pristine and crystalline yet lush and warm nature of his recordings, especially those in his Latin jazz quadrilogy.
When it comes to Patchwork, Khan's musicians have consistently contributed truly ideal interpretations of the guitarist's original music and his distinctive arrangements of others' writing for a Latin context; renowned engineer/mixer James Farber once again manages to not only capture what Khan and his musicians were laying down in the studio, but successfully carry it all forward into a finished album that truly leaps from the speakers with vivid life and evocative beauty; and Khan's astute sequencing creates an experience far better appreciated as a whole rather than as a collection of individual (and, indeed, individually impressive) tracks.
Khan's career may have had its ups and downs when it comes to popular acclaim, but he remains the critically acclaimed underdog, as he has been for almost his entire career. Still, since returning to regular recording as a leader after a decade-long absence with The Green Field - and, in particular, with his emergence as the preeminent guitarist and arranger in Latin jazz beginning with Borrowed Time but more significantly with the quadrilogy that began with Parting Shot - Khan is irrefutable evidence that artists looking to evolve across the breadth of their careers often create their best work in their latter years.
At 72, Khan clearly has the potential of many more years and, hopefully, recordings to come. But (and this is beginning to sound like a broken record, but meant with the most love and respect possible) if Patchwork were to be the guitarist's final recording as a leader, it would ultimately be viewed as going out on an exceptionally high a note. ..."though I've had countless disappointments, and many regrets," Khan writes, "I can tell you that, when everything is tabulated, I feel like a most fortunate man. And, I am eternally grateful for what I've experienced."
Even if it were based solely on the many creative successes of Patchwork, the only appropriate response would have to be: right back at ya. If Khan is eternally grateful, then those with whom the guitarist has shared his experiences through his music can be nothing less than equally appreciative. - John Kelman
- Ángel Romero writes beautifully about "PATCHWORK" in his column for World Music Central.org, the October 11th, 2019 edition.
PATCHWORK: STEVE KHAN'S SPLENDID MIX OF JAZZ AND AFRO-CUBAN BEATS
Virtuoso jazz guitarist Steve Khan continues his enchanting combinations of jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms on Patchwork. In this case, Khan has taken jazz classics and recreated them with harmonic and rhythmic modifications. The jazz artists chosen include: Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Joe Henderson, Keith Jarrett, and Bobby Hutcherson.
Khan has built one of the most formidable rhythm sections in contemporary American jazz, featuring an exquisite blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms; masterfully arranged and recorded.
Khan's colleague, keyboardist, composer and arranger Rob Mounsey plays a bigger role on Patchwork with inspired string and brass arrangements as well as superb electric piano and synth work.
Highlights include the opening track, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke's "Epistrophy," a high energy electric guitar piece with a creative rhythm section of drum set, Afro-Cuban percussion and bass; and "Bouquet" by Bobby Hutcherson, with Khan on acoustic guitar. This piece is turned into a lovely slow bolero in 3/4 with exquisite Spanish and Latin American-influenced guitar work, delicate drums and percussion, and beautiful orchestrations.
Other high points include Khan's composition "Naan Issue," a delicious bluesy cha-cha-cha; the lively "A Shade of Jade" (Joe Henderson) featuring a superb flügelhorn performance by Randy Brecker; the timeless Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane piece "Too Late Now" transformed into a bolero-paced ballad with outstanding guitar work, magnificent orchestrations and subtle rhythms; and the fusion-leaning "T. & T.," where Khan turns this Ornette Coleman composition into high energy Latin jazz rooted in a Mozambique rhythm.
Lastly, a tune that captivated me is the outstanding rendering of Keith Jarrett's "The Journey Home." This is the longest track on the album, with various sections. It opens with a dreamy slow tempo segment with Khan back on acoustic guitar, delivering delicious interplay with the electric piano, and then moving forward to lively Afro-Cuban beats and electric guitar, beautiful wordless vocals. And then the music slows down and concludes with a truly excellent acoustic guitar and wind-synthesizer duet over a layer of percussion and masterfully-crafted orchestrations.
The lineup on Patchwork includes Steve Khan on guitar; Rubén Rodríguez on baby bass and electric bass; Dennis Chambers on drums; Marc Quiñones on timbal, bongó, & percussion; Bobby Allende on conga; Rob Mounsey on keyboards and orchestrations: Randy Brecker on flügelhorn; Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone; Tatiana Parra on vocals Trk. ; and Jorge Estrada on keyboards and arrangements Trk. .
- From the February, 2020 issue of "the abso!ute sound" magazine, we find Bill Milkowski's great review of "PATCHWORK" - one that combines a bit of a phone interview that we did. I'm so very grateful for the amount of space that Bill was afforded for this particular piece. This rarely, if ever, happens for an artist like me.
STEVE KHAN'S LATIN MUSE - Veteran Guitarist in Fine Form on New Album
During the 1970s, guitarist Steve Khan strung together three fusion albums for Columbia Records - Tightrope, The Blue Man and Arrows - that saw him sustaining the sound of the original Brecker Brothers Band, which he was a member of from 1976-77. He continued in a hard-hitting fusion vein with the CBS All-Stars, featuring Billy Cobham on drums, Tom Scott on saxophone, and Alphonso Johnson on bass. As a ubiquitous session musician during the '70s, Khan also appeared on pop albums by such well-known artists as Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins, Phoebe Snow, and Steely Dan.
After staking out new musical territory hitting the '80s with his innovative band Eyewitness, Khan began testing the waters of an exciting Latin jazz hybrid on 1994's Crossings, which saw him injecting mambo, bembé, and montuno rhythms into clave-fueled renditions of jazz standards by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson as well as Great American Songbook numbers that included compositions by Steve's famous songwriting father, Sammy Cahn. While he had already alluded to this new direction, Khan plunged deeper into Latinization on 2007's Borrowed Time, which introduced Afro-Cuban percussionists Bobby Allende and Marc Quiñones, Afro-Cuban bass stalwart Rubén Rodríguez, and Eyewitness holdover Manolo Badrena. Khan then became fully immersed on a trilogy of albums beginning with 2011's Parting Shot, which added super drummer Dennis Chambers to the mix, and continuing with 2014's Subtext and 2016's Backlog.
For his most recent release, Patchwork, Khan recruited the same crew of Allende, Quiñones, Rodríguez, and Chambers for a fourth installment of guitar-centric Latin jazz. From a polyrhythmic take on Monk's "Epistrophy" to salsified renditions of Ornette Coleman's "C. & D." and "T. & T.," both underscored by infectious montuno grooves, to bolero renditions of Bobby Hutcherson's "Bouquet" and Lerner & Lane's "Too Late Now" plus a son montuno reading of Joe Henderson's "A Shade of Jade" and a cha-cha interpretation of Keith Jarrett's "The Journey Home," Khan re-imagines these jazz staples through an Afro-Cuban filter.
"People always aks me, 'Why the sudden fascination with Latin Music?' But it's always been there on all of my records," said the guitarist in a phone interview from his Upper West Side Manhattan apartment. "And that fascination really goes back, believe it or not, to my father in the '50s, when the U.S. went cha-cha crazy. I'll always remember him bringing home this record of Peggy Lee singing a song of my dad's called 'Come Dance with Me,' which she does as a cha-cha [from 1961's Olé ala Lee]. And I never forgot the feeling of the cowbell on that song. That sound of the cowbell is on all of these tunes from our rock 'n' roll time as kids, like Mickey and Sylvia's 'Love is Strange,' the Beatles' 'You Can't Do That,' the Stones' 'Honky Tonk Women.' Mountain's 'Mississippi Queen.' So many hit songs have had Latin cowbell in there, so it's been a part of my musical makeup since I was a kid."
A couple of years after his encounter with Peggy Lee's cha-cha record, Khan became enamored with Herbie Hancock's 1963 Blue Note album Inventions & Dimensions which featured Willie Bobo on drums and timbales and Osvaldo 'Chihuahua' Martínez on Latin percussion. "The tune 'Succotash' from that album completely turned my whole world around," he recalled, "To hear someone playing so freely within this Afro-Cuban 6/8 thing was thrilling to me."
Other Latin-flavored favorites followed, including Cal Tjader's Soul Burst and the Jazz Crusaders' Chile Con Soul. "But the fascinating thing about those recorded is that they were produced by non-Latinos," Khan explained. "And if you listen to them, there's no cáscara, where the timbales players plays on the shells because the producers told them not to do that, even though the players' instinct would be to play those things, those sounds. But for some reason, they were considered to be annoying sounds, so the percussionists on those sessions had to find another way to play and not lose that rhythmic pattern."
"I was just listening the other day to the famous Cal Tjader record Soul Sauce," he continued. "They play Mongo Santamaria's 'Afro Blue' on that album, and I was laughing when I heard it because the classic 6/8 mambo bell pattern is played on the güiro, which is not right. So for me, part of the journey of mine is trying to put the percussion as it's supposed to be as best as I can, having it all represented authentically, especially on these last four records."
Khan and his simpatico crew definitely get it right on Patchwork. The opening track, Monk's "Epistrophy," is a perfect example of that confluence of percussive patterns overlapping and interlocking that is the heartbeat of Latin jazz. "That tune really spawned the whole record," said the guitarist. "I was listening to a version of Monk's 'Epistrophy' and I started focusing on the bass playing in 6/8 and I thought, "What if you do the whole piece as an Afro-Cuban 6/8?' And then you have the shekere pattern going in what is called an abakwa rhythm with the triplet feel against that, which is also what happens on Herbie's 'Succotash.' And then, I had Dennis Chambers playing the classic Bernard Purdie shuffle with a half-time backbeat against it. So you put all of those basic elements together, and I am hearing 4/4 swing over the top of that, which I am playing on guitar."
Two Ornette Coleman tunes, "C. & D." and "T. & T.," both from Coleman's 1962 Atlantic album, Ornette!, float on top of an insinuating son montuno groove. I had originally played 'C. & D.' as a songo on my demo, but Marc Quiñones decided to play the whole piece as a son montuno, and it worked," said Khan. "When you listen to Ornette's original version of 'T. & T.,' it's basically an Ed Blackwell feature, almost all drum soloing, so I decided to make this piece the percussion feature for Marc, Bobby and Dennis. And the guys just went for it."
Keith Jarrett's gorgeous "The Journey Home" (from 1978's My Song) is rendered as a 15-minute suite with an intimate opening section that has Khan playing tender nylon-string acoustic guitar before segueing to an infectious cha-cha section. "That's an iconic recording," said Khan. "And it's almost something that any of us don't want to touch because it just seems so perfect. But in listening to Keith's version, I definitely heard a cha-cha in the second section, and the other two sections that come after that are in 6/8 and 9/8, which are classic Afro-Cuban rhythms.
"So while Keith implies it, we make it more pronounced in our version. It's such beautiful music with an incredible sense of romance. And I remember after we had recorded the last section, Marc Quiñones came up to me and said, 'Did you write that? That's so beautiful.' And I said, 'Man, I wish!' I think that he was deeply touched by it."
Keyboardist Rob Mounsey, whose working relationship with Khan goes back to the guitarist's 1979 album Arrows and includes duo collaborations on 1987's Local Color and 1998's You Are Here, provides the lush synth string orchestration on a tender bolero reading of the romantic "Too Late Now" that showcases the guitarist's signature warm-toned linear playing on his trusty Gibson 335.
Elsewhere on Patchwork guest Randy Brecker creates a salsa horn section by overdubbing three bristling trumpet parts on an uptempo son montuno version of Joe Henderson's "A Shade of Jade." Khan also contributes some bluesy guitar licks on his undulating, cha-cha flavored original, "Naan Issue," and he contributes wordless vocals on Jorge Estrada's "Huracán Clare," a super-charged tribute to Latin jazz and bossa nova icon, Clare Fischer. "I'm a complete Clare Fischer devotee, and it turns out that Jorge is as well," Khan explained. "So when he sent me his demo for this tune, I just flipped and thought, 'This guy completely gets it.' And Clare loved both Latin music and Brazilian music, so I think that it's in keeping with this little mini-homage by touching on both of those aspects."
Khan's latest success in blending his Latin tendencies with his fluid, jazzy guitar lines is a beautiful patchwork of rhythms, ideas, and soul. - Bill Milkowski
From the March, 2020 edition of "VINTAGE GUITAR" magazine, we have Pete Prown's tasty review. In a forthcoming issue, here is the full, unedited version of Pete's INTERVIEW with Steve that covers some topics that Steve rarely discusses. For those with the time, it makes for an excellent read.
The New York fusion vet remains of the tastiest cats around, mixing post-bop with Latin rhythms. Steve's tone is fat and sumptuous, weaving snaking improvs and chord comps on Joe Henderson's "A Shade of Jade" and Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy." Like a lot of Khan records, Patchwork doesn't bash you on the head with chops; it slyly sneaks up on you - and then, you can't stop listening. - PP
From George Harris, who wrote about "PATCHWORK" for Jazz Weekly on November 18th, 2019.
Guitarist Steve Khan continues his successful melding of Latin modes into post modern jazz with his latest band of Rubén Rodríguez/b, Dennis Chambers/dr, Marc Quiñones/timbal, Bobby Allende/conga, Rob Mounsey/keys, and guests Randy Brecker/fh, Bob Mintzer/ts, Tatiana Parra/voc and Jorge Estrada/keys. With Mintzer the team sizzles up Ornette Coleman's "C. & D." and percolates for Brecker on Joe Henderson's "A Shade of Jade." Keith Jarrett's "The Journey Home" has Brazilian vocalist Parra sleek and sensuously teamed with Khan's acoustic strings while the leader plugs in with pizzazz on his own "Naan Issue." Sleek and mellow musings have Khan on rich steel strings for "Bouquet" and grooving on electric with a humming Hammond on a V8 cruiser of Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy." Latin is a verb on this album. - George Harris
From Jazz journalist, Chris Spector, who writes about "PATCHWORK" in his Midwest Record Blog, the October 5th, 2019 edition.
Who'd have ever thought Metal Mike would one day be putting out jazz guitar records like this? A master class from the master, Khan takes a bunch of left field jazz, Latinizes it somewhat and calls in his A team to realize the whole thing. It's so hot you'll get blisters just from reading this - listening to it is a whole 'nother story; there's plenty of that low fire caliente that doesn't burn your mouth until a few minutes pass after that first bite (byte?). And then, he flashes his sense of humor with titles like "Naan Issue." A thoroughly joyful record because the A-listers have gathered around to play for the joy of it. - Chris Spector
From Jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil, who writes about "PATCHWORK" in her Musical Memoirs' Blog, the October 7th, 2019 edition.
Guitarist, Steve Khan has spent years developing and achieving a unique style of his own that blends jazz and Latin sensibilities. You can immediately hear that fusion in his beautiful arrangement of the Monk and Kenny Clarke "Epistrophy" composition. Driven by Latin percussive creativity and Khan's guitar brilliance, this tune is transformed and resurrected.
The track that follows is Ornette Coleman's composition, "C. & D." Khan's all-star group personifies his love of Latin music. Folks like Rubén Rodríguez on bass and Latin music giants like percussion masters, Marc Quiñones and Bobby Allende add bravura to the project. Special guest, Bob Mintzer, is on tenor saxophone and enhances their Cuban arrangement. They transform Ornette's song, using a Latin music style referred to as son montuno. Mintzer playfully presents the zig-zag melody on his horn, dancing above the percussion excitement.
Another guest, Randy Brecker, uses his tenacious flügelhorn to elevate Joe Henderson's song, "A Shade of Jade." This arrangement is also solidly Latin fused, but it's straight-ahead too. I enjoy the warm sound of Khan's guitar. During his solo, the music seems to transform the mood with a caballo feel. The singular original composition that Steve Khan adds to this recorded repertoire is titled, "Naan Issue." It’s a cha-cha arrangement, and may reflect some influence from celebrated composer/arranger, Clare Fischer. Steve Khan's guitar style is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery on this tune and will make you want to get up and dance. All in all, this is a lovely listen. - Dee Dee McNeil
From Mark Keresman, writing about "PATCHWORK" for ICON Magazine, the November, 2019 issue.
Khan is a descendant of Wes Montgomery stylistically, without being constrained by the influence. He's a single-note cat with a bright, slightly burred tone and a fondness for deep, soulful notes that hit you where you live. He has the gift of economy - his solos are to the point and engaging - he's not just scattering notes about. Patchwork is a rare item: easy-to-like and creative simultaneously. - Mark Keresman
From Pete Pardo, who wrote about "PATCHWORK" for Sea of Tranquility, in their December, 2019 issue.
PATCHWORK is the fourth in a series of Latin inspired jazz from legendary guitarist Steve Khan, and he's joined on this collection of original pieces & expert interpretations of old classics by: Rob Mounsey (keyboards), Rubén Rodríguez (bass), Bobby Allende (Conga), Marc Qui˜ones (timbal & percussion), and Dennis Chambers (Drums) - along with special guests Randy Brecker (Flügelhorn), Bob Mintzer (Tenor Sax), Jorge Estrada (keyboards), and Tatiana Parra (Voice). Though Khan made a name for himself during the glory days of the fusion era, he's also immersed himself in funk, pop, and many other styles over the years, but he still carries a little of that fusion fire in these Latin/Afro-Cuban drenched tunes. Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy" bounces, bubbles, and boils, tasty lead guitar melodies dance around the mix amid plenty of groove laden rhythms. "C. & D." features some upbeat salsa rhythms and plenty of weaving sax, keyboard, bass, and guitar lines for a wild ride, while "Naan Issue" also sways & bops with no shortage of Latin tinged rhythms, and Steve's sumptuous lead guitar lines. "A Shade of Jade", the great Joe Henderson song, shines in the hands of this group, Brecker's flügelhorn soaring high, giving way to Khan's liquid jazz guitar excursions. Nimble drums & percussion highlight the Latin fusion gem from Ornette Coleman "T. & T." (Man, Chambers & Quiñones are GOLD here!) and Keith Jarrett's gorgeous "The Journey Home" becomes a 15-minute example of lovely acoustic & electric jazz, Khan's tender guitar tones floating over percussive washes and majestic keyboards before the addicting Latin grooves kick in. The album closes with the upbeat "Huracán Clare", chock full of acrobatic percussion, tasty guitar, and the swirling electric piano of Estrada.
Classy stuff from start to finish, PATCHWORK shows the always dependable Steve Khan still at the top of his game. With his top notch cast of supporting musicians, he's created a beautiful album here that will thrill any fan of Latin jazz & guitar fusion. Highly recommended!
December 11th, 2019 - Pete Pardo "SEA OF TRANQUILITY"
From Robert Silverstein, who wrote about "PATCHWORK" for Roots Music Report, on January 11th, 2020.
A very cool album filled with Afro-Cuban rhythms, Patchwork is a globe-spanning album of instrumental guitar tracks seasoned with the World Groove sound of Latin musical vibes.
January 11th, 2020 - Robert Silverstein
"Roots Music Report"