Not having the advantage of hearing altoist Loren Stillman's earlier albums, Blind Date can only be compared to having seen him in concert some five years ago. Opening for the more straight-ahead Lew Tabackin Quintet and singer Roberta Gamborini, Stillman and his quartet showed no mercy and spent the entire set in full free jazz flight. Stillman had either misjudged this very mainstream audience or wanted to make the most of such an opportunity.
Blind Date begins promisingly, the title tune showcasing Stillman's balladry and coming across fully as a combination of Lee Konitz and a dry martini; the perfect start for someone who blew the house awaya negative connotationwith his avant-garde playing in the past.
Stillman reports that he studied with both Konitz and Dave Liebman, but his influences also include Béla Bartók and Frank Zappa. After bassist Drew Gress and pianist Gary Versace solo on the seven minute-plus "What Will People Think," the altoist approaches his playing with some edginess, in the general vicinity of Ornette Coleman's early-1960s Atlantic period.
Stillman's group is well-chosen to accompany him. Versace doesn't always provide the more standardized comping and cushioning, laying out during Stillman's solo on "Theme For A New Regime," while providing some dissonant flourishes on "Don't Be Too Nice" that are later matched by Gress and drummer Joey Baron. Gress and Baron are individualistic musicians and the drummer's experience with outside players helps.
"Theme for a New Regime" and "Don't Be Too Nice" find Stillman very carefully toeing a line between mainstream and avant-garde. It is almost as if his long phrases and swoops are making it clear that he is fully capable of taking it out, but is providing just a taste of it here. Appropriately, the closing tracks ("Major," "Legroom" and "Etude) offer something that this listener would want to hear more of, but that may well have to wait for another occasion.
Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Gary Versace: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Joey Baron:drums.