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I Hear Sparks: Jim Stranahan – Free for All

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Alto and soprano saxophonist Jim Stranahan takes to Free for All with every intention of celebrating the youth movement. With a multi-horn sextet with an average age of 24, the album features compositions written and arranged by Stranahan. What’s more, Jim’s son Colin plays drums.

Along with Colin and Jim, Free for All features the services of tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino, trumpeter Brian Chahley, pianist Glenn Zaleski, and bassist Chris Smith. Pete Olstad lends his trumpet on a couple of cuts. Wade Sander shows up with trombone in hand and Mike Abbot plays guitar on a couple of tracks, too.

Having spent over 40 years performing with local Colorado bands, Jim’s love of jazz goes back to times that were perhaps simpler. He spent time playing with the likes of Bobby Shew and Lee Konitz when they swung through town and even iced the cake with gigs in backing bands for artists like Rosemary Clooney.

Yet as the years went by, the elder Stranahan sunk into a career as a music educator. For the last 35 years, Jim has taught in schools and privately in his studio. Free for All is a chance to set fire to the spotlights again. Buoyed by his pride in his son’s work, Jim infuses this album with incontrovertible enthusiasm and raw swing.

It opens with “Loco,” a cut that bounds out of the gate with horn-infused swing. There’s a smidgen of Latin flavour that opens the door for Colin’s drumming. Olstad takes to the lead trumpet slot in style, blending impeccably with the other horn players. The track is built for soloing, in a way, but there’s also a beautiful mixing process that takes place that really drips mean grooves through the whole thing.

Stranahan’s well-built compositions are all over Free for All. They are spacious arrangements, down to the letter, and they really help the young band pick up its energetic chops. You can almost picture Jim cheering on the various players as they glide easily through the roomy charts to superbly slick passages of vibrant sound.

Whether it’s the bounce of “When the Funk Hits the Fan” or the smoothness of “Hip Street,” Jim’s nose for arranging and playing is abundantly clear. He blends elegantly with each band member, showing compassion for his son along the way by preparing some spirited patches of rhythm.

A pure celebration of the youth movement led by a veteran music educator, Free for All embodies the spirit of openness in jazz like few other records this year. In guiding these young lions with such purity and humility, Jim Stranahan is a titan of sonic insight and a class act all the way. Awesome stuff.

 

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