After what appears to be an interlude of SteepleChase releases ( Brothers' Breakfast & Trio Alto Volume One
, released in 2006 and Trio Alto, Volume 2
, 2007), saxophonist Loren Stillman returns to his earlier quartet format with the marvelous Blind Date
The music on the current release connects directly to Stillman's first three (mature) recordings: How Sweet It Is
(Nagel Heyer, 2003), Gin Bon
(Fresh Sound New Talent, 2004) and It Could Be Anything
(Fresh Sound New Talent, 2005).
While the SteepleChase recordings are recognizably Stillman, even when he plays standards, the music feels conservative from the point of view of chances wished for and taken. With Blind Date
, however, all of the assurance, intellect and beauty that originally captivated and built his following, is back on display.
It is now time to stop noting his youth and to realize that such an original compositional voice and musical conception does not come along very often. His saxophone sound is immediately recognizable and is an intimate part of the total musical package that also includes a smooth, slow, watery vibrato.
Stillman's music is highly accessible in that its melodies, however surprising their turns, are extremely logical and have the feel of inevitability about them. The harmony supporting these melodies is soft-edged and floats as if pushed by the musical windStillman cites guitarist John Abercrombie as a strong influence. Finally, his music is rhythmically supple with a pulse that is felt but not at all obvious and which also shifts as the band feels the moment.
Pianist Gary Versace has played and recorded with Stillman in the past, and takes to this music as if it were his own. Completely in control, Versace gets inside this extremely personal music, adding his own personality and color to Stillman's idiomatic compositions.
Stillman's music needs a bottom and a bassist who is comfortable with odd time signatures and phrase lengths, and who can also change rhythmic feels instantly. Drew Gress is a very melodic player who is able to perform the same kind of function that Scott Lee did on the earlier albums, the ability to play a separate line while tying the piano and drums together rhythmically.
Drummer Joey Baron is a bit of a surprise choice in that he is normally thought of as more extroverted than is required here, as demonstrated on Abercrombie's Third Quartet
(ECM, 2007). However, he proves to be as perceptive and adaptive as Jeff Hirshfield was on the earlier albums, providing subtlety, grace and drive in equal measure.
The music of Blind Date
ranges from the mysterious and faintly dangerous to the overtly, but not obviously, forceful. Thoughtfully presented, with much space between tracks allowing contemplation, this music has the capacity to amaze and seduce the body and
At once immediately comprehensible and yet very deep, Loren Stillman deserves our full attention.
Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Gary Versace: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Joey Baron: drums.