Loren Stillman: How Sweet It Is (2003)
Occasionally a totally new CD finds its way to the player, and from the music's very first notes, just totally entrances both mind and body. These magical times are rare, but this is really what jazz is about. Furthermore, a CD that manages to make this kind of impression almost always remains able to over time, even years later. How Sweet It Is is one such effort. It is one of those rare releases that draws one in willingly without demanding anything, yet is so seductive and powerful that time seemingly stops for its duration.
From the opening cymbal work that leads to the deep theme in "Between the Devil and God" played in unison by piano and sax, this music announces that it is anything but "typical." Stillman has that special gift of melody, whereby even a theme that is rolled out slowly seems to have an innate logic which makes it almost instantaneously memorable. In Russ Lossing, Stillman has found a player who matches his feel for that winding line that leads but does not get lost. He many times trails Stillman during a line, sounding like an echo, which is very eerie, even if it is planned (which is unclear).
Scott Lee is an extremely melodic bassist, playing lithe and leaping lines which, although they are in the background, complement both the soloists and Hirshfield's circular and insistent drumming. Together, the rhythm section is propulsive, but in a deceptive way. The music is heavy and deep, ponderous and insinuating, yet manages at the same time to be lilting and flowing.
Of all the tracks, "Meat" and "Meat Snake" stand out the most. Stillman gets a very light and airy alto tone that allows the gorgeous melody of "Meat" to roll out. There are so many ways to hear this, but the mixture of beauty and depth in a ballad is seductive, and it is very easy to hear the inevitable melodic logic mentioned above as well as Stillman's improvisational talents. "Meat" itself would mark Stillman as someone to watch, but then, three tracks later, "Meat Snake" comes along. An ominous bass motive repeats under unearthly chords from Lossing. The mystery and danger continue to build as Lossing's chords get thicker and Hershfield's drumming intensifies as it interplays with Lee's bass, while we wait for Stillman's entrance, which doesn't come until halfway through the nine-minute track. When he does come in, he brings the now familiar theme to a fever pitch.
Joe Lovano said that Stillman's "future is so bright it's almost blinding." How true, and this short essay does not do How Sweet It Is justice.
Track Listing: Between the Devil and God; Happy; Meat; Chicken; How Sweet It Is; Meat Snake; Darling Clementine; Chasing the White Rabbit.
Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Russ Lossing: piano; Scott Lee: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums.