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J. Steinkoler Quartet: The Road Home

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Some great albums reach greatness through a uniformity of sound, like a sculpture chiseled from one block of marble; Kind of Blue leaps to mind. Other albums achieve their heights through eclectic variety, and while a number of attempts might be suggested, I'd like to propose Jeremy Steinkoler's The Road Home.

Steinkoler displays a taste for the unusual and diverse on this eleven-track album. He's a technician on the traps, delivering savory licks for all occasions. The album launches with "The 8-Ball is Neutral," opening with a prominent bass line from Devin Hoff and splashes of color from Scott Foster on guitar. Jim Peterson lights up his alto sax and from there the group continues through a straight-ahead jazz piece with colorful solos served up by all involved. The next track, "Chill," comes across more like the ensemble bands of the 1970s and 1980s, a little cooler and more introspective than the opener. "Sunny Came Home" — yes, Shawn Colvin's folk-pop hit — is brilliantly covered without losing the essence of the original. Equally moving but less obvious covers are Abdullah Ibrahim's "Water from an Ancient Well" and Karla Bonoff's "Home," further proof of the far-flung influences drawn upon by this band.

Some of the more exploratory pieces leave me flat. "Fi'Deen" builds inertia then lets it escape again and again. The technique suggests drinking-song comedy — undoubtedly the intent — but I never feel in on the joke. "Compromise" ventures out on a light breeze and nearly loses me, only to be saved by the rousing "Pig Farm Hill."

Still, every track brings a surprise and remains fresh after repeated listens. "Something for everyone" is a promise rarely kept and usually suggests mediocrity. Not so with The Road Home.



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