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The Jason Steele Ensemble: Some Wonderful Moment

Greg Camphire By

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The Jason Steele Ensemble makes its recording debut with the unique Some Wonderful Moment, marking an auspicious start for the guitar-playing bandleader/composer and his promising group of creative instrumentalists.

Based out of Chicago, a city that has a long tradition of cross-fertilization among many disciplines of music, Steele and his compatriots combine elements of jazz and rock in a way that sidesteps traditional notions of fusion. Some recognizable touchstones in the music recall the eclectic work of fellow Chi-town residents Tortoise, the bucolic vibe of Pat Metheny's Midwest-inspired compositions, and the cinematic instrumentals of noted guitarist/producer Daniel Lanois.

While there is an overall absence of swing (at least in the traditional sense), the straight-eighth-note grooves on Some Wonderful Moment contain a slinky propulsion that evokes the austere sound of many ECM Records releases, as well as the wide-open spaces of roots-rock Americana.

The mellow moods of Steele's compositions often come off as a bit bloodless, but the tasteful musicianship favors a sense of studied detail over kinetic showmanship. The warmly familiar glow of Keith Johnson's Fender Rhodes and the subtle rhythms of drummer Charles Rumback and bassist Matt Ulery maintain an aural cushion that envelops the listener into a relaxed, meditative aura; one that is occasionally interrupted by Josh Sclar's edgy reeds solos that splatter the tunes with welcoming exclamation points, tinged with a slight yet fiery dissonance.

The inclusion of Ron Miles, who contributes his singular cornet as well as the original composition "Since Forever, adds further distinction for fans who may recognize the brass man from his work with Bill Frisell. Miles' burnished tone and thoughtful lines show why he is considered one of the modern masters of his instrument.

Meanwhile, Steele's own presence seems to be subdued in the interest of sculpting a fuller presentation of his music, one in which the leader showcases a more complete vision of his music and supports the ensemble's overall framework, even if it means sacrificing his individual character as a soloist.

In that way, Steele may be pointing out his greatest strength as an emerging voice, embarking on the creation of his own personal sonic world with a team of like-minded collaborators, and embracing a bigger compositional picture as he continues to develop a signature sound.

Personnel: Jason Steele: guitar, compositions; Ron Miles: cornet; Thad Franklin: flugelhorn, trumpet; Josh Sclar: tenor saxophone; Tim Sullivan: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Keith Johnson: Fender Rhodes; Matt Ulery: bass; Charles Rumback: drums.

Title: Some Wonderful Moment | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ears&eyes Records


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