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Loren Stillman: It Could Be Anything

John Kelman By

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Jazz fans seem to be constantly debating when the best period for jazz was. That some believe that now is unequivocally the worst time for a genre now in its second century is puzzling. The arguments most often heard have to do with there being no "significant innovations, and the predominance of high profile artists like Diana Krall and Jamie Cullum overshadowing more "serious jazz artists.

Whether or not top-charting artists are serious is an argument for another day. But it's inescapable fact that jazz's marginalized position—at least in terms of CD sales—means that the greater public's perspective on jazz is largely defined by the handful of big sellers like Krall, not to mention the predominance of reissues from the major labels. Still, one need only look to the plethora of independent labels to realize that jazz is hardly on its death bed. It's thriving and, if not seeing grand developmental leaps, there are inescapable steps forward day-by-day, release-by-release. That a twenty-something musician like saxophonist Loren Stillman can release an album as mature, well-conceived and personal as It Could Be Anything is clear evidence that creative jazz with a difference is still being made and that it's premature to be ringing its death-knell.

It Could Be Anything is Stillman's fourth release as a leader since 1998, and if there's anything more impressive than his growth as a player, it's his evolution as a writer. Some might consider him too cerebral—there's clearly an underlying complexity to his detailed compositions that is rich grist for inquiring musical minds. But analyses of his potent blend of irregular meters, vivid counterpoint and abstract harmonies would be of little value if his music didn't resonate so strongly. Stillman's impressionistic bent may mean out-of-the-box melodic thinking, but despite that he's unfailingly lyrical. Some writers are oblique for the sake of it, but it's clear that Stillman wants his music to sing.

Bassist Scott Lee and drummer Jeff Hirshfield date back to Stillman's second release, How Sweet It Is (Nagel-Heyer, 2003). The newcomer to the group is Gary Versace, more commonly heard these days on organ in guitarist John Scofield's touring band, as well as with Indo-Pakistani guitarist Rez Abbasi and on his own debut, Time and Again (Steeplechase, 2005). Here he's strictly on piano, and his abstract sense of musical suggestion is continued evidence of a significant musical voice gaining ground at almost warp speeds.

Stillman's technique is formidable—making his alto sound flute-like on the moody miniature, "Vignette: Ghost Town and evoking multi-hued multiphonics on the more insistent and deceptively-titled "I Don't Know What We're Doing. But his tone, possessing a gradual and gentle vibrato, remains warm and appealing throughout.

The quartet's simpatico is clear, despite communication being often so subtle as to be felt rather than heard. Feeling is, in fact, the defining characteristic of It Could Be Anything, where Stillman proves that it's possible to create intelligently multi-layered music that is emotionally compelling and speaks with its own voice.

Track Listing: Evil Olive; Noushka Foo; A Common Thread; Gnu; Vignette: Ghost Town; Drawn Inward; Old San Juan; A Simple Phrase; I Don

Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Gary Versace: piano; Scott Lee: bass; Jeff Hirshfield: drums.

Title: It Could Be Anything | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent

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