Kyle Coughlin has mixed jazz and classical performance with a career in musical academia (he holds a doctorate in clarinet performance from Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory and is the director of the jazz ensemble at Howard Community College). Along the way, he's played for east coast and European audiences and recorded with Todd Butler and singer John Signorello. With the release of When Afternoons Return, he establishes himself among the top rank of young leaders with a distinguished collection of original compositions.
His generally straight ahead approach has some interesting curves, particularly when he takes a Celtic turn on cuts like "Running The Border." Coughlin's sound and style, especially on the opener, "Orange Blossoms," and the title track, is sometimes reminiscent of vintage Charles Lloyd, but there's little here that is blatantly imitative. While he stands rooted firmly in jazz traditions, Coughlin has a fresh and distinctive approach both to his horn and his writing.
He's joined by a quartet that includes three other veterans of the Baltimore/DC jazz circuit. Drummer Mike Kuhl and bassist Jeff Reed provide a level of rhythmic support that any leader could envy, and guitarist Michael Raitzyk shines whenever Coughlin hands off the lead.
Altogether, When Afternoons Return is an outstanding debut by an artist who deserves to be heard well beyond his hometown. If you're not planning a visit to Baltimore in the near future, this disc provides a listening opportunity without geographical limitations.
A review of When Afternoons Return by Geoffrey Himes of the Howard County Times:
Like Joshua Redman, Kyle Coughlin is a jazz saxophonist who grew up in a rock-and-soul age. Like Redman, Coughlin tries to reconcile his twin passions for jazz and rock not by adding a lot of electronic gadgetry, but by using pop hooks and aggressive 4/4 rhythms as the basis for his post-bop improvisations.
Coughlin's debut album as a leader, "When Afternoons Return," illustrates howengaging this approach can be. Coughlin, who performs twice in Howard County in the coming days, is a tenor saxophonist whose thick, muscular sound enfolds a lyrical sense of melody. He composed all nine numbers on the new disc, and each provides an attractive tune to showcase the combo's solos. Some, such as the chamber-like "Bartok," reveal his background as a classically trained clarinetist (though he sticks exclusively to the tenor sax on this session). Others, such as the crisply swinging title track, confirm his grasp of the jazz tradition.
The most interesting cuts, however, borrow from the music of Coughlin's own time. "In the Cage" is built around a funk groove, but the quartet is never constrained by a dance pulse. Instead, it uses the energy to fuel pattern-scrambling solos. "Smoke and Mirrors" is similarly pushed along by a tumbling, jam-rock momentum reminiscent of the Allman Brothers Band. And Coughlin's tender solo on "Fragmentary Blue" reminds one not so much of a horn player as of a pop singer nursing a heartache.
These materials are reinvented by a standard jazz lineup that features Jeff Reed on upright bass and Mike Kuhl on a small drum kit. It's true that Michael Raitzyk, the current leader of the Charm City Klezmer Band and the former leader of the Raitzyk Jazz Orchestra, plays electric guitar on the session, but it's a hollow-body Gibson guitar of the type used on hundreds of swing and bebop recordings. And Raitzyk bridges the gap between that tradition and the chunkier, more assertive approach of the rock and soul era.
Coughlin, who directs Howard Community College's student jazz ensemble and faculty jazz quartet, has played up and down the East Coast with such jazz stalwarts as Terrell Stafford, George Colligan and Harvie Swartz. With his new album, Coughlin joins saxophonists such as Redman, Greg Osby and David Murray who are trying to liberate jazz from the time-warp prison of the bebop era.