The Story This Time
As with many of his peers on the Chicago jazz scene, bass clarinetist Jason Stein is wonderfully unpretentious. He’s adventurous while offering a nod or two to the past. Even at his most wild or whimsical, Stein is never less than earnest and almost always engaging.
Stein’s choice of primary instrument automatically marks him as something of an odd duck. On The Story This Time, he coaxes a wide range of sounds from the bass clarinet, from warm, evocative lines to otherworldly shrieks. But along with those sonic explorations, he honors musical heroes. Six of the disc’s 11 tracks are covers of tunes by Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano. Stein’s original works have a classic hard-swinging feel, as well. However, the frequent blurring of distinctions between composition and improvisation provide a more modern feel.
“Laced Case,” for example, moves along a push-pull rhythm anchored by bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly. At various points, the accelerating rhythm prompts Stein and tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson to slow their phrases. That kind of interplay is integral to the entire quintet, but especially between Stein and Jackson, who engage in impressive dialogues throughout. On Marsh’s “Background Music,” Stein and Jackson state the complex bebop theme in unison, then quickly give way to a dual improvisation that never becomes tangled or loses the rhythmic thread.
A highlight here is “Little Big Horse,” which features a boppish theme and well-constructed solos from the two reed players. Stein and company are equally comfortable exploring the outer reaches of free jazz (“Hatoolie,” “Laced Case”). Still, they always find their way back to the center.
The Story This Time presents more evidence that the Windy City remains a vibrant jazz hub.
—John Frederick Moore