As his eleventh release on the label, Watershed continues the elegant and blissful creative marriage between guitarist John Stein and Whaling City Sound. A good marriage is based in compromise, in accommodating give-and-take, and Stein's give-and-take with this rhythm section of bassist Frank Herzberg, drummer Ze Eduardo Nazario and pianist Daniel Grajew creates beautiful, delightful music.
Stein pours out Bobby Scott's "A Taste of Honey" with all the natural sweetness of its title for six luscious minutes. His round yet sharp sound suggests Kenny Burrell as it polishes the melody, finding and pulling out all its special brassy and blue highlights, and Grajew's solo sprinkles notes from his electric piano like refreshing springtime raindrops that splash and glisten off the cymbals. Stein's guitar and Grajew's electric keyboard stroll in style around Pat Martino's "Cisco" as nimble as tap-dancers yet as deep and soft as velvet gloves, while Nazario keeps pushing his drums further and further out to churn the supporting rhythm underneath. Nazario and Herzberg seem to know exactly just how much rhythm to play: Not too little, but not too much. Stein covers another guitarist's tune by retaining the main melody to Jim Hall's "Waltz New" for its opening and closing, but unravelling his own colorful and convincing tale in between. He also cuts the ensemble back to a trio, freeing up the missing keyboard's space for guitar and bass solos to explore.
Stein closes Watershed with his original tune "The Hang," which barely seems to hold the band together but allows each instrument to explore its own improvisational path before they all come together, as if by magic, in its glorious concluding melody. But the real question about Watershed is: Why wasn't this set named "Brazilian Hug" (another Stein original included here) instead? It's warm and sunny and bright and comfortable and it explains in five minutes everything that's good about this set with dexterity and grace. It just sounds so happy and warm and bright and proper, the sound of everything fitting into place just right.
Rio Escuro; Kobe; Taste of Honey; Brazilian Hug; Mystified; Wally; The Kicker; Waltz New; Cisco; Dreamsville; Charlotte; The Hang.