Saturday, January 22, 2011

CD Review: Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore - Three Kinds of Happiness

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore
Three Kinds of Happiness
(Not Two)

Jason Stein named his trio Locksmith Isidore after his grandfather's first name and occupation. Two pieces on this album also have titles that pay tribute to his siblings: "Little Bird" to his sister; and "Sammy's Crayons" to a half-brother who liked to draw as a kid. It's clear from these indications that Stein's music gets some fuel from his personal history, and the way he utilizes these elements never comes close to maudlin nostalgia.

In a similar fashion, Stein's music frequently heads into a rather straightforward direction, swinging like crazy with walking basslines and jumpy bass clarinet solos, acknowledging the music that came before him. In some ways, a lot of the tracks on this album could be considered very accessible to a more mainstream audience, and not what one might expect from someone who has played with the Exploding Star Orchestra. Yet he does this through more original means.

The obvious starter is this equation is Locksmith Isidore itself, a trio led by Stein's bass clarinet together with Jason Roebke's bass and Michael Pride's drums. Bass clarinets have become a tad more commonplace in jazz, but rarely does one see it as the sole voice on the frontline. Stein doesn't draw on some of the more standard trappings of the instrument - its guttural, throat clearing rasp, percussive slap-tonguing or high range wails. Three Kinds of Happiness leans more towards composition, and Stein shows off his more melodic tendencies, leaving room with the wild stuff as he sees fit.

Sometimes, a tune starts off with the trio moving loosely or freely before jumping into a more structured setting ("Cash, Couch and Camper," "Ground Floor South"). "Arch and Shipp" - which could be an homage to Archie Shepp and possibly Matthew Shipp - stays outside for the first half of its nine minutes, so when the group hits the theme, the bounce in the melody sounds all the more infectious. At one point during his solo, Stein rapidly shapes and reshapes the initial theme somewhat like Coltrane and it makes you realize that being the only horn soloist is a challenging job and that he handles it was ease and skill.

If "More Gone Door Gone" were scored for a larger ensemble, it could easily turn into a stomping blues. Here the trio hints at its wild potential but Roebke and Pride hold back while Stein employs some circular breathing for a double-time chattering, which is just as exciting as a wild blues and whole lot more original. A couple of live, bonus tracks profile the more wild side of the group (Stein has also recorded a solo bass clarinet album for Leo), where they take an simple idea and build up around it. Coming at the end of the disc, they serve as a good contrast to the earlier pieces like "Little Bird," a strong ballad that has some passing references to the classics.

Grandpa Isidore might be perplexed at times by the trio but ultimately he'd dig them.

1 comment:

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