As long ago as his 1983 outing, Casa Loco, guitarist-composer-producer Khan had been hinting at this kind of infectious Latin-jazz fusion. He’s made several gestures in this direction over the years, most recently on 2006’s The Green Field and 2007’s Grammy-nominated Borrowed Time. But never before has his vision of this possibility been so fully realized as on Parting Shot.
A bona fide fusion guitar hero during the late 70s (his trio of Columbia albums—Tightrope, The Blue Man, Arrows—is considered essential listening), Khan was also a ubiquitous session musician who appeared on recordings by everyone from The Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobam, and David Sanborn to Steely Dan, Billy Joel, and Chaka Khan. His adventurous group Eyewitness (The Police meets jazz) became his main focus through the 80s. An accomplished player with a jazz pedigree and a penchant for interpreting Thelonious Monk tunes on the guitar, Khan spent the 90s playing in straight-ahead guitar trio settings with the likes of bassist Ron Carter and Al Foster (documented on 1991’s Let’s Call This) and bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette (1997’s Got My Mental). Parting Shot reunites him with Eyewitness bandmates Anthony Jackson on contrabass guitar and Manolo Badrena on percussion and vocals. The lively Latinized session is anchored by all-world drummer Dennis Chambers (currently in Santana) while conguero Bobby Allende and timbales and bongo player Marc Quiñones add authentic Afro-Caribbean flavor to the proceedings.
They come out of the gate with a joyously percolating take on Ornette Coleman’s “Chronology” (on Borrowed Time, Khan did a Latinized version of Coleman’s “Mr. And Mrs. People”). Khan’s clave-fueled “Los Gaiteros” perfectly fits the program, with Jackson nailing the tumbao groove, Badrena coloring with perfectly placed cowbell accents, and Quinoñes and Allende forming a churning latticework pattern of percussion underneath. On Khan’s cha- cha-cha, “Change Agent,” the guitarist dips into a blues bag on his extended solo while Badrena injects humorous sonic mayhem via assorted hand percussion and his digital Syncussion setup. Monk’s “Bye-Ya” is cleverly rendered as a rumba while Coleman’s “Blues Connotation” is given a new suit of Afro-Caribbean clothes.
“Maria Mulambo” is a funky descarga based on a riff from James Brown’s “Doin’ It To Death” (aka “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time”). Badrena contributes his inimitable free-spirited vocals on this 10-minute throwdown. The earthy groover “Influence Peddler” is enhanced by the ethereal vocalese work of Tatiana Parra and Andres Beeuwsaert while the mellow ballad “When She’s Not Here” (dedicated to “the wondrous, romantic harmonies of Clare Fischer”) has special guest and longtime Khan collaborator Rob Mounsey enhancing with lush synth string orchestrations. Khan reserves his most aggressive blues-tinged six-string work (sounding quite a bit like Robben Ford or Larry Carlton) for the lyrical “Zancudoville,” which he dedicates to the people of Venezuela. They close with the energized rumba “Just Desserts,” which has Khan wailing through a harmonizer and features a barrage of chops on the kit from drum monster Chambers.
The title of this affecting collection is a reference to Khan’s assertion that, due to economic constrains in these uncertain times, this will be his last recording. Here’s hoping he changes his mind.