Blessed are the eavesdroppers, for they shall overhear such consistently beguiling conversations as those between guitarist John Stein, reedmeister David "Fathead" Newman and their eloquent companions, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa and drummer Greg Conroy. Even though the guitarist "puts words in his mouth" (all of the compositions are Stein's), Newman evidently relishes the thought-provoking interplay, as this is their second album together. The session is evenly divided between trio and quartet numbers with Newman playing alto on "Up and at 'Em," flute on "September," tenor on "Serengeti," "Stepping Stones" and "BB Blues," and Stein, Kaumeheiwa and Conroy conversing brilliantly among themselves on "Half Minor," "Oak Bluffs," "São Paulo," "Lucy Lou" and "The Willie Walk." When Newman is on board he and Stein work together as flawlessly as Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello; every note they play is as complementary as it is captivating. Newman, of course, is a known quantity, having paid his dues and earned respect over the years in a variety of formats from straight-ahead Jazz to R&B. There's no questioning his talents, which are abundantly clear on each of his five appearances. Stein, although nowhere near as prominent as Newman, brings a plethora of expertise to the table, playing and writing with conspicuous warmth and awareness. As a player, the technique is exemplary, the tone flat-out gorgeous; as a writer, the tunes are harmonically sophisticated but always charming and accessible. Even though Newman's is a towering presence, the trio numbers are outstanding in their own way, thanks to Stein's melodic artistry and the tasteful and near-telepathic group interplay. A marvelous album that cooks moderately but persuasively from start to finish.
Contact: Jardis Records, D-66583 Spiesen-Elversberg, Schubertstrasse 12, Germany. Web site, www.jardis.de. John Stein's web site, www.johnstein.com
Personnel: John Stein, guitar; David "Fathead" Newman, reeds; Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass; Greg Conroy, drums.