Got Bass Clarinet? Jason Stein Does

Mark Corroto By

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In the short history of jazz—only about 110 years—the bass clarinet has had an even shorter existence. Students of Charles Darwin's evolutionary studies might point towards the adaption of the instrument into the new jazz of the 1960s; or perhaps the branch of evolution studies called biogeography might explain that fertile locations spawn growth in the use of certain instruments. Nonetheless, the bass clarinet has only appeared in fits-and-starts throughout the jazz story. If the progenitor was Eric Dolphy, his children are David Murray, Ken Vandermark, Andrew DeAngelo, Marty Ehrlich and Gebhard Ullmann.

Add to that list the ever evolving Jason Stein. While the musicians listed above play the bass clarinet as one of many instruments in their arsenals, Stein has dedicated himself exclusively to the long, straight bodied clarinet with the curved neck. He has released two recordings, one a modern improvisational trio, the second an unaccompanied solo session.

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore
Three Less than Between
Clean Feed Records

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore trio album follows A Calculus of Loss (Clean Feed Records, 2008). While Stein has retained drummer Mike Pride, he has swapped a cellist for Chicago bassist Jason Roebke. Stein, a New Yorker, has chosen to base his playing out of the fertile Chicago jazz scene, playing and recording with Ken Vandermark, oboeist Kyle Bruckmann, saxophonist Keefe Jackson and others.

The Chicago sound suits Stein's approach to music. The tracks here are mostly improvised, but melodies and satisfying patterns tend to emerge as each track unfolds. The opening track, "Protection And Provocation," could be an equivocal tribute to the great Eric Dolphy and his guttural vocalizations played over walking bass and snare drum. But if Dolphy is the starting point, Stein's new conception is the direction of this recording. The trio frees itself on melody on "Stevenesque," and Stein flexes his aggressive horn on "Laced Up With Air," where he goes toe-to-toe with Pride and Roebke. The drummer, probably known best for his take-a-few-prisoners punk/jazz drumming plays with a shrewd and discerning style here. When called to, he can match Stein's speed, as on "Izn't Your Paper Clip," but mostly he sticks to his role underscoring the music.

Stein's clarinet meets the rubbing bass of Roebke on "Saved By A Straw," breathing textured notes and occasional bird calls to match the tweet and rubbings of the bassist. Roebke, a member of James Falzone's Klang, Mike Reed's People, Places & Things, and bands led by Jeb Bishop and Jason Adasiewicz, is an in-demand player because he can both lay down a pulse to keep the momentum of the music moving forward and operate in the open atmosphere of sometimes minimal free improvisation.

This is a very satisfying recording.

Jason Stein
In Exchange For A Process
Leo Records

Certainly Stein is required to deal with the music of Eric Dolphy on this solo bass clarinet recording. Since Dolphy's passing at the young age of 36 in 1964, there has been much advancement in the possibilities of the odd shaped bass clarinet, a mainstay of symphony orchestras and wind ensembles.

Dolphy's penchant for extended technique is not lost on Stein. While many of today's musicians utilize the bass clarinet for its bottom-end sound, Stein plays the upper register with a warmth and zeal one might find in Evan Parker's soprano saxophone work.

This is a laboratory of an album, experimenting with extended technique, sound and structure. Like the revelations heard in the solo trumpet work of Peter Evans, Stein brings new ideas and sounds to his chosen instrument. Quiet puffs meet metallic overblown notes in Stein's labor. He varies approach on each of the 11 tracks, painting different pictures of his sound world. Pops and clicks signal changes, while clear notes are reminiscent of the warm, smooth nature of this instrument.

Fans of solo recordings and meditative music will find much to contemplate here.

Tracks and Personnel

Three Less Than Between

Tracks: Protection And Provocation; Stevenesque; Laced up With Air; Izn't Your Paper Clip; Saved By A Straw; Future Lungs; Three Less Than Between; Augusta Gun; Most Likely Illiterate; Amy Music; Sad Crestwood Lungs.

Personnel: Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Jason Roebke: bass; Mike Pride: drums.

In Exchange For A Process

Tracks: For The Sake Of Edgar Pollard; For Ishan; History Histrionics; EP And Me; Hysterical Eric; Murray Flurry; Temparary Framing Of Dr. J; Handmade Chicago; For Peter; Fiction For C.G..

Personnel: Jason Stein: bass clarinet.

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