Monday, November 27, 2017

Jason Stein Quartet - Lucille! (Delmark, 2017)

Jason Stein specializes in the bass clarinet, the unwieldy yet beautiful instrument that Eric Dolphy popularized in the 1960’s. Stein’s work nods to Dolphy’s groundbreaking music, especially the angular beauty of his Out to Lunch album, but he has developed a unique and personal approach to the instrument that is all his own. He is joined on this session by Keefe Jackson on tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet, Joshua Abrams on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. This is an excellent album of bracing modern jazz that mixes original compositions with thoughtful covers and cover a wide dynamic range from spacious and abstract through to blistering fire music. "Marshmallow" opens the album with tight bass and drum playing setting a fast pace for the two reed instruments to harmonize over and then to break out into solo formations. Stein plays a fast paced feature moving adroitly within the thicket of rhythm provided by the bass and drums. Jackson's saxophone is an excellent foil for the bass clarinet, making for an excellent full band improvisation and theme. There is a darker and more angular feel to "Halls and Rooms" with the group exploring the music at a medium tempo. The space allows the reeds to stretch out and offer interesting textures while being gently framed by bass and drums. The pace slowly grows toward a collective improvisation, then backing out for an expressive and emotional tenor saxophone solo. "Roused About" has an active and complex feeling with the clarinet and drums circling and engaging with each other, slowly raising the stakes before the band breaks into a strutting and memorable theme. The musicians build from the riff into a confident and witty bass clarinet feature, working with the other instruments to for an excellent performance. There is a patient medium tempo established on "Wow" that quickly moves into a complex and nimble thematic statement. This makes for excellent source material for the horns to improvise on and they do so in an admirable fashion. There is a muscular section on "Little Rootie Tootie" that was very exciting and unexpected, adding a dose of free playing to contrast against the memorable melody. The album concludes with "April," a thoughtful and carefully played melody, with a fine feature for Stein's bass clarinet, it shows how well rounded his music and this album is, encompassing melodies and rhythms that support the natural growth of the music. His conception of small group modern jazz is a fine one, and this album deserves to be widely heard. Lucille -

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