Guitarist John Stein's Massachusetts-based trio strides in with charm and confidence on Serendipity, a frame of mind that prevails throughout an album whose name was inspired by a concert-that-wasn't but eventually was, thanks to live-streaming, during a massive and deadly global pandemic. That concert, planned for an outdoor venue in New Bedford, was derailed by Covid-19 but later moved indoors to the city's Art Museum, where the trio performed for an audience of one, sound engineer John Farrell, who taped and edited the video. Listening to the concert at home, while doing chores, Stein became aware that the soundtrack alone would be worth releasing, and Neal Weiss at Whaling City Sound agreed.
Whether they made the right decision is for the listener to decide. Here is one emphatic "aye" vote, based largely on the trio's consummate artistry and the fraternal rapport between Stein, bass guitarist Ed Lucie and drummer Mike Connors. Stein's clean, articulate single-note lines are admirably complemented by Lucie's lower-register discourses and Connors' crisp and versatile timekeeping. And when Stein takes a chordal approach, his bandmates are there to cover his back and keep the balance at a high level. Lucie lends the session an indispensable lower voice, while Connors is sharp and resourceful with brushes or sticksand they are splendid soloists to boot.
The trio's astute choice of material certainly does not harm the cause, starting with Sonny Rollins' well-grooved "Alfie's Theme" and including a trio of shapely standards, "On Green Dolphin Street," "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" and "East of the Sun." Also on the menu are original compositions by Thelonious Monk ("Well, You Needn't"), Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Insensatez") and four charmers by Stein ("Labor of Love," "Bing Bang Boom!," "Elvin!" and "Happy Hour"). As trio sessions go, Serendipity earns high marks in every quarter, from group dynamics to individual artistry. Kudos as well to John Farrell for the superb sonics.
Alfie’s Theme; On Green Dolphin Street; Well, You Needn’t; Labor of Love; Insensatez (How Insensitive; Bing Bang
Boom!; Elvin!; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; East of the Sun and West of the Moon; Happy Hour