Does the Seattle jazz community-that nebulous amalgamation of big-eared musicians, students and listeners-realize the good fortune that we possess as friendly, backyard neighbors to John Bishop, Doug Miller and Marc Seales: the New Stories Trio? It's a question that is undoubtably answered with countless nods in the affirmative from those of us who have heard the trio perform with local sax legend Don Lanphere, grammy-nominated vocalist Mark Murphy, numberous Port Townsend and Earshot festival groups, and Ernie Watts- L.A. saxophone heavyweight and special guest on the trio's latest CD, Speakin' Out
In fact, as we enter the twelvth year of New Stories' existance, Seattle's jazz-inclined would be hard-pressed to name a more dedicated trio of musicians, educators, and spokesmen than John, Doug and Marc. The fruits of their evolution in the '90s are documented on three recodings. Circled By Hounds (SMB, 1995) proclaimed New Strories' high degree of musicianship and respect for the classic jazz tradition via fresh takes on established standards, including a samba rendition of Body and Soul and Stella by Starlight in 5/4 rhythm.
Remember Why (Origin, 1997), featuring local saxophonists Lanphere, Rick Mandyck and Hans Teuber, found the trio adopting a decidedly modern voice through the interpretation of works by Miles Davis ("Circle"), Wayne Shorter ("Prince of Darkness," "Fee Fi Fo Fum") and Joe Zawinul ("In a Silent Way"). Original compositions by Miller and Seales stressed melody and lyricism, but also acknowledged an affinity for playing "out" as exhibitied on Seales' "Colmanology."
Speakin' Out is another step forward, offering a unique perspective on the trio, specifically, their ability to create funky, r&b-tinged hard bop grooves especially suited to compliment the soulful inclinations of Ernie Watts (who plays on roughly half the cuts). The recording's first five tunes seal the deal as far as the soul factor is concerned, and feature more great writing from Miller ("The Jordy Strut") and Seales ("Blue, Highway Blues"). These tracks start strong, build momemtum and climax in an explosion of notes from Watts' sax and Seales' piano, both heard to advantage trading rapid-fire improv passages. An acoustic bassist (turn up the volume on pizzicato solos), Miller's bowing technique can be heard to advantage on Herbie Hancock's I Have a Dream. On drums, Bishop is always right there, punchin' accents like a speedbag. The title cut is another Doug Miller original-shifting gears from funky to free, which some musicians like to call, in a good way, "sick."
This review was previously published in Earshot Jazz magazine.