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Loren Stillman has emerged from prodigy status into a player of great interest. While using traditional instrumental formats and settings, the altoist has an approach to tunes that sound fresh and different. On both of these recordings - The Brothers' Breakfast a quartet with guitar, organ and drums and Trio Alto Volume One a trio with bass and drums - Stillman displays youthful enthusiasm and a willingness to experiment lightly with textures and sound pictures.
The Brothers' Breakfast is made almost entirely of Stillman originals. Like Monk (whose "Gallop's Gallop is the only cover here), these compositions call for subtle new ways of playing and listening. This novel approach is evident from the start with "Under the Influence . Initially, there is that lovely and disorienting sense of trying to get a foothold in the melody and it kicks in with surprise and revelation. Stillman and guitarist Vic Juris airily solo over a quiet and strong foundation that drummer Jeff Hirshfield and organist Gary Versace lay down. And then Versace himself digs in and finds the dark beauty in the tune. All of the songs take unexpected turns - "Densities redirects the rock feel for example and "Crushed Ice is warm and evanescent - and the instrumentalists seem to be having a grand time.
Stillman's smart compositional style even manifests itself when he's playing other people's music. Trio Alto Volume One has only one Stillman original and it sits well in a program of tunes that might be part of, say, a Charlie Parker gig. Without the chordal instruments, Stillman and his cohorts - Hirshfield again and Steve LaSpina on bass - are free to spin out dramatically and imaginatively. Right away with the opener, "Long Ago and Far Away , Stillman reharmonizes the Jerome Kern melody and it feels like a new tune. The saxophonist regularly finds the riches in the melody but he seems to relish getting there. LaSpina and Hirshfield are both extraordinary trio players and help turn every tune into an adventure. Even Bill Evans tunes that might scream for a keyboard or guitar - "Turn Out the Stars and "Time Remembered - are re-imagined without any loss of essence. And incredibly surprising is "All The Things You Are , in which a brief bass statement of part of the melodic line leads to a Stillman solo that re-assesses the old chestnut and does not remind us at all of the 1000s of jazz interpretations of the tune. These three are locked together - nothing feels superfluous - in sterling reworkings that keep the tunes and the inventive spirit alive.
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