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Nature Work: Nature Work

Mark Corroto By

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Jason Stein and Greg Ward are two stalwart Chicago musicians who continually stretch boundaries and search for new experiences. Stein, a devotee of the bass clarinet, maintains two trios, Hearts & Minds (with Paul Giallorenzo and Chad Taylor) and Locksmith Isador (with Jason Roebke and Mike Pride), plus his quartet with Joshua Abrams, Keefe Jackson, and Tom Rainey. Ward's alto saxophone (and occasional clarinet) can be heard in his large ensemble 10 Tongues and Rogue Parade (with Matt Gold, Dave Miller, Matt Ulery, and Quin Kirchner). Together they collaborated with drummer Mike Reed on the recording and tour for Flesh and Bone (482 Music, 2017). It seemed only natural the pair join forces for a project such as this.

Their choice of the non-Chicagoans Eric Revis and Jim Black over the uber-talented local bassists and drummer / musicians listed above is where the musical unawares come in. But then again, both Stein and Ward love to zag when you think they are about to zig. Revis, probably best known as the bassist for Branford Marsalis' quartet, has led several cutting-edge solo projects that have included Chicagoan Ken Vandermark. Black is a force of nature unto himself, with his quartet Alasnoaxis, a trio, and contributions to Human Feel, Endangered Blood, Carlos Bica & Azul, and various Tim Berne projects.

With Stein and Ward sharing the composition duties we get this mélange of sweet and savory, where quite often (and often unanticipated) Stein's bass clarinet is tangy and Ward's alto saxophone is honeyed. Opening with "The Shiver," the horns trade-off twisting notes over a driving rock pulse. Not satisfied to recreate Clifford Jordan & John Gilmore's Blowing In From Chicago (Blue Note, 1957) both Revis and Black continually muddy the musical waters, jolting the tempos and ruffling the unruffled. Black's drumming on "Zenith" is eccentric and unorthodox, but it sets up Ward's Ornette Coleman-inspired composition. There is a tension to the music that comes from four very strong-willed musicians. Strong-willed though doesn't mean selfish. Revis' opening salvo on "Hem The Jewels" weaves a dense and jungle-like path of interplay. With Black battering his kit, Stein blows some twisting Eric Dolphy-sounding notes and Ward opts to dance lightly on top of the skirmish. "Tah Dazzle" builds upon a very simple progression, and builds and builds. The blues inflected piece snakes its way, albeit haltingly from smoke to a roaring fire, back to smoldering embers. One wonders if this recording is a one-off, a catching of lightning in a bottle, and could this quartet summon the power of this magical session again?

Track Listing: The Shiver; Hem The Jewels; Porch Time; Zenith; Opter Fopter; Cryptic Ripple; Tah Dazzle; South Hempstead; Ride.

Personnel: Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Eric Revis: bass; Jim Black: drums.

Title: Nature Work | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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