What’s different about Mirage is that Landrus has also incorporated a string quartet. Its members — Mark Feldman and Joyce Hammann on violins, Judith Insell on viola and Jody Redhage on cello — bring warmth as well as precision to their task. And Landrus, who has worked broadly with large ensembles, including Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project, knows how to blend all of his parts into an integrated whole. (Truesdell conducted the strings and helped Landrus produce the album.)
There has been no shortage of youngish jazz bandleaders dabbling in chamberesque effect, but Landrus, 34, stands out here for the poplike angle of his music. With rare exceptions, like Sammy and A New Day, this album forgoes highbrow connotation in favor of a vibrant melodic accessibility. The title track begins with strings in intriguing bloom, but soon delves into a kind of R&B slow jam. I’ve Been Told rides a reggae groove, unabashedly. Someday puts some shimmer on an in-the-pocket waltz.
Landrus gives himself room to maneuver, most often playing baritone saxophone. He has a cooler style than other low-reeds specialists: He doesn’t chase the phantasmagorical, like Colin Stetson or Scott Robinson; or go in for pyrotechnics, like James Carter; or bask in boppish aplomb, like Claire Daly or Gary Smulyan. He doesn’t floor you.
But the tenderness in his playing feels as warm and accessible as his writing. The other unaccompanied track on the album, Reach, arrives at its midpoint. This time he’s playing a contra alto clarinet, with results as shadowy and delicate as you could want.