Jason Stein Quartet

Lucille!
Delmark DE 5025

Chugging along in his career as a bass clarinet crusader, Chicago-based reedist Jason Stein extrapolates the unique harmonies available from a two reed-two rhythm combo on a series of tracks that highlight his compositional/arrangement talents and cherry picking of the Jazz tradition. Stein, who doubles on no other instrument, has made his presence felt playing in groups with other Chicagoans such as cornetist Josh Berman and Keefe Jackson, the latter of whom adds his tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet to this disc. Busy Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Tom Rainey, a New York interloper, fill out the quartet.

Tellingly, Stein, who has recorded in different configurations, is particularly eloquent in this one when the group plays lines associated with the so-called school of pianist Lennie Tristano: the pianist’s “Wow” and “April” and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh’s “Marshmallow”. Leading of the CD with the close harmonies implicit in Marsh’s tune, the band adds rugged swing to its implicit coolness, actually suggesting the gutty work of baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan when he recorded with alto saxophonist and Tristano-ite Lee Konitz. Variations of this antiphony arise on the other Tristano lines with the front line often coming on like Konitz and Marsh and on “April” dexterously shifting the narrative from one to another, as the other reed provides vamping decorations. A climax of blended tones with rhythmic momentum is helped by bass and drum subtlety.

Jackson’s contrabass clarinet playing adds mass to the performances but not ponderousness, as he dexterously demonstrates when outlining the theme to “Dexterity”. With the timbres of the bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet so close in many instances, it’s difficult to tell one from another. However the key to the collaboration is the nimbleness with which the two manipulate ideas. Reed vamps may suggest the output from carousing hippopotamuses at times. But as Stein and Jackson demonstrate biting swing and swift turnarounds may be snortier and slurpier than from more petite instruments, but the execution comes with no loss of color, power or direction.

At this point in his career Stein also demonstrates tenderness as well as technique, especially on the ballad “I Knew You Were”, On top of Abrams’ bowed ostinato the bass clarinetist brings melancholy to the theme as it moves forward, finally resolving the narrative with high pitches from his horn and lower ones from Jackson’s, ending with a tolling bell-like clamor from Rainey’s drums.

Describing Stein as one of Jazz’s most accomplished bass clarinetists is faint praise, considering the paucity of associates. More properly the CD shows that he’s able to create a distinctive session of themes and improvisations no matter the instrumental palate.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Marshmallow 2. Halls and Rooms 3. Dexterity 4. Roused About 5. Ryder’s Uncle Dragon 6. Wow 7. Little Rootie Tootie 8. I Knew You Were 9. April

Personnel: Jason Stein (bass clarinet); Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet); Joshua Abrams (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums)