Stein Brothers Quintet in Montville, NJBy
Montville Township Public Library
January 11, 2006
Alex and Asher Stein are saxophonists in their early 20s who regularly work in various venues throughout the greater New York City area. The sound of the Stein Brothers Quintet is firmly rooted in bebop, a stylistic road not often taken by young musicians. Shunning the pop oriented material, electric textures, and improvisational pyrotechnics favored by many of their contemporaries, the brothers' acoustic bop is staid and rather polite, placing equal emphasis on finely honed arrangements and improvised solos of moderate length.
The concert's two sets featured a couple of selections from the American Popular Songbook, an Ellington tune, John Lewis' classic "Milestones, two original compositions by both Alex and Asher, and two by Mferghu, the band's pianist. The brothers' music contained catchy melodies and was not overshadowed by the better known items in the program. Arrangements included the smooth, satisfying blend of Alex's tenor and Asher's alto. A well rehearsed band, including bassist Doug Largent and drummer Chris Brown, sounded very comfortable with the material, offering no hint of a jam session ambiance.
Asher's solos often reflected the influence of Charlie Parker, but other than copping a few too many of Bird's licks on "Trailblazer, there were frequently signs of genuine individuality in his playing. The alto saxophonist often found a nice balance between double time passages and more deliberate phrasing. During "Mr. QC he was fully engaged with the rhythm section, and on the standard "Star Eyes his jaunty lines elicited some lively comments by Brown. Brother Alex was generally more laid back, offering sparing, behind-the-beat passages filled with mini-melodies. While there were times he seemed removed from the rest of the band, on the standard "This Time the Dream Is on Me, and Mferghu's "Jammin' at the JCT, the tenor saxophonist's thoughtful, deliberate playing was the epitome of cool efficiency.
Pianist Mferghu was the most distinctive soloist in the band. Reminiscent of bop icon Bud Powell, throughout "This Time The Dream Is On Me, his lines had a real bite, and were more angular and rhythmically diverse than the horns. He also wasn't adverse to risk taking and playing outside of the bebop vernacular. On "Trailblazer, at the end of an extended chordal interlude he brought the bass and drums down almost to silence, then came roaring back with cascading single note lines. Mferghu and Brown possessed an exceptionally strong rapport. During Ellington's "Wahoo the drummer responded to hints of dissonance with a succession of jagged fills, nicely augmenting the pianist's phrases.
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