Billy Stein: Hybrids (2006)
Hybrids, guitarist Billy Stein's debut recording, arrives after thirty years of playing sideman to some of the finest musicians in the New York area. A singular stylist with an unorthodox approach, Stein shares the same off-center sensibility as stylistic peers like Bern Nix, Joe Morris and Michael Musillami.
While attending Milt Hinton's Jazz Workshop at Hunter College in the 1970s, Stein found a kindred spirit in percussionist Kevin Norton, who now runs the Barking Hoop label. In the ensuing years, Stein performed with Sahib Shihab, William Parker, Wilber Morris, Matthew Shipp and Sabir Mateen. Years later, when Norton heard Stein's mature, unassuming playing in Rashid Bakr's group at the Knitting Factory, Hybrids was born.
Removed from more traditional aspects like the blues or bop, Stein's writing has an esoteric quality. A self-proclaimed organic coalescence of the straight-ahead and avant-garde worlds, Stein straddles freeform improvisation and structured composition with remarkable consistency. His writing is intricate but not inaccessible, enabling his rhythm section to interact with empathic fluidity, freely floating between pulses within the confines of loose structures.
Since relocating from the Pacific Northwest to New York, bassist Reuben Radding is quickly becoming a ubiquitous presence. He has made numerous appearances with Daniel Carter, Jeff Arnal and other Downtown stalwarts in the past few years. Drummer Rashid Bakr has played with Cecil Taylor and William Parker in addition to leading his own group, which features Stein.
Radding swings mightily and melodically, anchoring the trio, while Bakr varies his attack from restless, churning miasma to methodical, scintillating coloration. Stein employs a classic clean guitar tone, avoiding unnecessary effects. His dexterous phrasing finds him spinning endless streams of notes in unexpected patterns. He occasionally overdubs rich augmented chords over his own abstruse excursions to thicken the group's sound.
Although Stein may be the leader of this date, he is not its sole focus. The trio operates democratically, communicating collectively. From simmering conversation to heated exchanges, they display practiced listening skills. This is cerebral and complex music, but far from impenetrable. Stein has released a strong and refreshing debut album that stands tall among his peers.
Track Listing: Juice; Outside Burn; Purple Nova; Right on the Line; Manhattan Moon; How Long?; Hybrids; Epilogue.
Personnel: Billy Stein: guitar; Reuben Radding: bass; Rashid Bakr: drums.