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Jason Stein: Silver Dollar

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Jason Stein: Silver Dollar
The record label's name—NoBusiness Records—should be warning enough. Silver Dollar is not an album trying to make friends. Contents are under pressure and probably dangerous. The group releasing said record, Threadbare, is a sonic-terrorist cell comprised of Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Ben Cruz on electric guitar and Emerson Hunton on drums. Once past the trappings (check out the impressively minimalist cover art work—who knew hard currency could be so scary?), you'll find an accomplished and reasonably rewarding set of out-jazz that thuds more than it swings but rarely leaves tonality completely behind for too long.

Jazz trios with a horn—avant-garde or mainstream—typically leave out the chordal instrument and keep the bass, but here Stein's remarkably virtuosic bass clarinet jousts with Cruz's often-distorted, occasionally Mary Halvorson-esque six strings while Hunton studiously avoids playing rhythms you can snap your fingers too. Sometimes the result is full-on caterwauling, but the band has a quieter, explorative side (check our parts of "Threadbare 02" and "Untitled"), and never seems to be making noise for noise's sake. The interplay is thoughtful, if boisterous.

Stein is the best-known member of the group. His other efforts are typically a little more mainstream but he's always had a weak spot for the astringent and harsh facets of his notoriously difficult horn. The other players are newer to the scene, and whether their identities are still forming or they are just unfamiliar, they are a little harder to pin down. Both are good listeners and creative players, and that's two-thirds of the battle at least.

Structurally speaking, there are glimpses of Halvorson's ensembles, and, oh so briefly, a glimpse of the good-old bebop days in the knotty head to "Funny Thing Is" (the development of the tune, however, is nothing like bebop—rather Stein and Cruz exploring the outer limits on parallel tracks). The other group evoked from time to time is King Crimson. The Crim-like tunes are perhaps the most immediately accessible and cathartic (and would only benefit from an aggressively played electric bass thrown in the mix), but overall, the odd mix of instruments works better than it should and the group has promise of better to come. If you're in the mood for fifty minutes of challenging and uncompromising music (or just mad at your significant other) give Silver Dollar a spin.

Track Listing

And When Circumstances Arise; Threadbare; 70 Degrees and Counting Down; Mesh Veils; Funny Thing Is; Threadbare; Silver Dollar; Untitled.

Personnel

Jason Stein
clarinet, bass
Ben Cruz
guitar

Album information

Title: Silver Dollar | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records


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