Jason Stein, Keefe Jackson, Joshua Abrams, and Frank Rosaly Recommended Soundboard

When: Wed., Dec. 14, 9:30 p.m. 2011

The quartet Chicago bass clarinetist Jason Stein currently leads—reedist Keefe Jackson, bassist Joshua Abrams, and drummer Frank Rosaly—wasn't supposed to be a working band. Stein assembled the group last year to play standards at what he thought was a low-key one-off show at the Skylark, but as he puts it in Bill Meyer's liner notes for the band's recent debut, The Story This Time (Delmark), "There was a very special thing that Keefe and I had going on at that gig that prompted me to take the band a step further." The new album captures that chemistry—it's no coincidence that among Stein's sturdy original compositions are tunes by Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, and Lennie Tristano, who together demonstrated some of the most intuitive and telepathic improvisation in the history of jazz. Stein and Jackson don't reach that lofty peak, but their rapport is amazing, especially during the extended passages when they solo together. And on a knotty reading of Monk's "Work," they serve up one of the most unusual front-line timbres I've heard in years, braiding Stein's bass clarinet with Jackson's gawky contrabass clarinet. Throughout the album (Jackson usually plays tenor sax) there's a bright buoyancy to their simultaneous lines, a kind of swooping bebop cool that's underpinned by the intense focus required to avoid midair collisions. But they're not caught in some kind of 1940s time warp—they spike their playing with jagged turns of phrase, acerbic tones, and expressionistic bleats. Abrams and Rosaly provide a perfect foundation, keeping the music weightless and swift. Stein has often highlighted the unwieldy nature of his horn in Locksmith Isidore, but he's never sounded more fluid than he does here, even hinting at the saxophonic tones of Rudi Mahall. —Peter Margasak $7

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