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Paul Steinbeck was drawn to Chicago by the blues. He attended university there, but he also played with the Jazz X-tet and came under the influence of several musical styles, viewing jazz as a quirky blend of the traditional, the avant-garde and free improvisation. He brings all these tangents together and, with an assured feel for melody, gives them a distinct presence.
Steinbeck has a feel for composition. He pegs down the central idea and in writing with a quartet in mind, he leaves the avenues open for them to flesh and blood his music. For starters, he comes in on the modulated swing of “This is 7918,” a warm, toasty feeling ignited by the horns of Niko Higgins and Andrew Lamb. The ambience soon enough moves into interweaving lines, before the pulse is swing kicked by Steinbeck’s bass.
From then on the groove casts a spell augmented by the drive and invention of Higgins. Steinbeck’s experience of “New York” is an ambivalent excursion, pronounced at first in sombre mood, the build-up gradual, before it moves into a funky mode as Lamb and Higgins stretch the tension keeping it taut and tantalising. Steinbeck keeps his “Awareness” in free territory, leaving the horns to revel in its expanse. They twist, they gnarl, but they never wallow in excess.
Nine tunes down the road, Steinbeck has shown that there are at least that many ways of having an enjoyable time.