The title of saxophonist Benny Rubin Jr.’s acclaimed 2017 solo debut What’s Next came across like a cool tease into what would become whirlwind future of this eclectic composer and musician. Since that release, he moved to NYC to attend the New School of Performing Arts and worked with many top jazz artists and groups, including the Harlem Society Orchestra.
In June 2018, Rubin and his high-octane quartet (pianist Lex Korten, bassist Adam Olszewski, drummer Jk Kim) began a residency at the Sound Bite in Hell’s Kitchen – a stint that leads now to the ensemble’s impressive, stylistically all over the map but damn cool and emotionally hard-hitting collection Know Say or See.
This near hour of intense, eclectic power – which showcases six Rubin originals and fresh spins on “Darn That Dream” and the hard-swinging Horace Silver relative obscurity “Kiss Me Right” - draws us in subtly with the inviting, sparsely arranged sparse, laid back blues of “Know” and the multi-movement slightly avant-garde improvisational jam “Say.”
Grounding the subsequent journey in the lush and soulful, straightforward balladry of “Darn That Dream,” they blast through with a bustling tribute to their current hometown (“NYC Urge,” based on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge”), then get more serious as they use complex jazz figures and building improvisational chaos to stress the urgency of the “Flint Water Crisis” in Rubin’s beloved hometown.
The quartet’s hard swinging energy is again on full display on the spiritual minded, Coltranesque improv-heavy tunes “Down They Go” and “Or See,” which feature Korten’s most dazzling piano solos, “Down they Go.” Though Rubin’s quartet magic can certainly just be enjoyed without any social messaging, the saxophonist makes a clear statement with the album title, which refers to the things people don’t want you to Know, Say or See. Fortunately, even acknowledging those limitations, we can still hear!