Loren Stillman's latest projects, Trio Alto Volume 2 and Blind Date, both give evidence of his growth as a bandleader, composer and improviser. The former is his second pianoless trio date for SteepleChase and, in contrast with 2006's cover-dominated Volume 1, contains all original compositions and a heightened atmosphere of exploration and possibility, due in no small part to the imaginative correspondence of bassist John Hebert and the lyric iconoclasm of drummer Take Toriyama. There are many strong tracks: "Sonic Boom" has a hooky melody, loosely rendered yet with recognizable contours, Stillman wrestling his ideas into interesting variations, eventually pinning them down; "Neither Here Nor There," like the title implies, employs an open-ended melody that curves out in opposite directions, asking more than it answers, until the group coalesces finally on a mutually ruminative tone; "Liquid Radio" drives with unbraked forward motion, an odyssey through subtle shades of emotion, ending spaciously; "Sticks & Stones" is more of a jumping-off point than an arrival, featuring 'white-noise' effects in an artful balance of free-form and structure; and "All Over the Place," arguably the strongest piece, opens with a three-minute bass solo that builds mood through expressive slides and glissandos, murmured tones, register shifts and reiterated theme-bytes, quickly mounting to a whirling edifice when the alto and cymbals enter. It's not always clear who's 'leading' whom in this musical free-for-all...and that's a good thing.
In spite of a new cast of musical charactersincluding Gary Versace (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Joey Baron (drums)Blind Date has much in common with Trio: all original compositions, a high level of interaction and subtle expositions of controlled abandon. Stillman's writing is mature and compelling: the title track uses 'borrowed' chords from parallel tonalities; both versions of "Etude" have extended, arching melodies that trail colorful harmonies in their wake; and "Legroom" is a prettyif somewhat unsingabletune. Like Trio, Blind Date boasts many moments of collective clarity: on "What Will Other People Think?" Gress and Stillman merge their fractured thoughts into tight zigzags; on "Don't Be Too Nice" Versace and Gress share close empathy supporting and stimulating Stillman's edgy wanderings and on "Legroom" the rhythm section both follows and leads the alto's articulations and dynamic contrasts, creating a string of mercurial 'agreements' and impromptu episodes. This come-try-the-waters interplay recalls the Tristano/Konitz/Marsh school of freedom, unforced but quietly compelling.
Tracks & Personnel
Trio Alto Volume 2
Tracks: Stumbling Down a Path; Sonic Boom; Neither Here Nor There; Liquid Radio; Sticks & Stones; A Bright Idea; All Over the Place; Accelerated Scenario.
Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; John Hebert: bass; Take Toriyama: drums.
Tracks: Blind Date; What Will Other People Think?; Etude; Shape Shifter; Theme for a New Regime; Don't Be Too Nice; Major; Legroom; Etude.
Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Gary Versace: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Joey Baron: drums.