Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore - After Caroline

Label: Northern Spy Records, 2018

Personnel - Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Jason Roebke: acoustic bass; Mike Pride: drums.

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Chicago bass clarinetist Jason Stein has been putting a lot of effort in the command of his reed instrument, from which he unearths mind-boggling sounds ranging from innocuously undisturbed to gutturally wild. His long-running power-trio Locksmith Isidore hadn’t put a record out since 2008, but a few months ago the group released After Caroline, a versatile work where they expand and contract rhythms and textures with a broad sense of adventure.

The album opens and closes with sturdily groovy pieces. If the brawny opener, “As Many Chances As You Need”, composes a rock-imbued setting saturated with scorching lines, multiphonic cries, and altissimo squeals, then the closing title, “We Gone”, emits a raucousness in the true spirit of rockers, incorporating catchy melody over the winning rhythmic drive offered by bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride. The latter distributes resolute chops, filling the transitions with lively energy. Yet, his posture totally redirects toward textural softness on “You Taught Me How To Love”, a melodious, poised poem propelled by brushes.

Conjuring up the styles of Monk and Steve Lacy, “Ekhart Park” bounces resolutely with fragmented boppish lines and complementary drum stretches along the way, landing on a robust bass solo before the restitution of the short theme. This song feels somewhat related to Coltrane’s “26-2”, the album’s sole cover. Heavily steeped in the hard-swinging bop tradition, this celebrated number doesn’t renounce to spirited individual statements.

Strenum” and “Walden’s Thing” have little in common. Whereas the former is a purely spontaneous trio creation that feels at once minimal and abstract, the latter, tumultuous and vociferous in its narrative, is a rhythmically dense experiment written for the late saxophonist Donald Walden.

Through After Caroline, Stein and his trio mates claim a higher position within the freer side of the jazz spectrum. Their key elements are mellifluous angularity, a broad sense of groove, and the substantial thrills of the ride.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - As Many Chances As You Need ► 06 - Walden’s Thing ► 08 - We Gone


Jason Stein Quartet - Lucille!

Label: Delmark Records, 2017

Lineup - Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone, contrabass clarinet; Joshua Abrams: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.

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Chicagoan bass clarinetist Jason Stein flaunts a categorical, spirited sound that can be concurrently explosive and melodic. For the new outing, Lucille!, he reunites his exciting quartet to explore compositions he penned plus hard-groovin’ renditions of classics by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Warne Marsh, and Lenny Tristano, in a sort of a conceptual follow-up to his previous album, The Story This Time, released in 2013.

As it happened before, Stein teams up with Keefe Jackson, who alternates between tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet, to create an unabashed double-horn frontline. He also probes an unprecedented rhythm section with regular bassist Joshua Abrams and the new-arrived Tom Rainey in the drummer's chair, replacing Frank Rosaly.

Opening with Rainey’s jittery drumming, here empowered by unexpected thumps, Warne Marsh’s “Marshmallow” thrives with a vivid bass pizzicato, falling into a modern swing suffused with unisons and polyphonies delivered by the reedists, who show an intricate, powerful, and still amiable phraseology. Following a similar approach, “Wow” and “April”, both by Lennie Tristano, bestow this pleasurable insouciance that wants to tell us that swing can be something else nowadays but is still alive! There’s a direct parallelism with the original versions and its force comes not just from the coincident boppish lines in the head but also from the reciprocity of ideas.

Recreating different paces, intensities, and moods within a well-defined structure, “Halls and Rooms”, a Stein’s original, has Rainey’s brilliant rhythmic inventions constantly popping in my ears.

The raucous inflections of the contrabass clarinet can be heard on Parker’s “Dexterity” and Monk’s “Little Rootsie Tootie”, bringing amusingly attractive low-pitched tonalities to pin down a confluent steadfastness. The latter piece starts by embracing a thunderous cacophony before entering in an immodest rasping celebration of hooky clarinets immersed in abstract crosstalk. 

Carrying another unflinching swinging verve at the base and elated melodies on the top, “Roused About” showcases the wide-eyed energy of the improvisers.
Distinct from all the rest, “I Knew You Were” stratifies spiritual intonations, resorting to droning bowed bass, irregular cymbal shatters, and percussion chops scattered throughout. Freedom and unity are claimed through devotional improvisations and counterpoint whose kinetic nature perpetuates the depth and the fervor.

In addition to inflaming classic pieces with their scintillating straightforwardness, Jason Stein and his partners build interesting originals with a panoply of patterned and uncommon sounds that have much to be admired.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Marshmallow ► 04 - Roused About ► 07 - Little Rootsie Tootie