Hearts & Minds

Astral Spirits MF181/AS 077

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore

After Caroline

Northern Spy NS099

Expressing his bass clarinet wizardry on these CDs Chicago-based Jason Stein wields his instrument effectively in contrasting trio situations. On the so-called Free Jazz side of the fence is the most recent CD from his long-running Locksmith Isidore group with drummer Mike Pride and bassist Jason Roebke. Meanwhile Hearts & Minds, a co-op with drummer Chad Taylor, who often partners Rob Mazurek, and old friend Paul Giallorenzo on synthesizer and keyboards, fearlessly explores the often perilous territory between Free Music and groove rhythms.

Unexpectedly Electroradiance manages to traipse the greasy surface that often trips up musicians who try similar expansive feats. Case in point is “Shreveport”, composed by Taylor, which manages to mate a stunning backbeat from the drummer and rippling electronic keyboard breaks from Giallorenzo who also maintains the exposition, as Stein’s dramatic chalumeau slurs and slide evolve in counterpoint.

Hearts & Minds’ ability to mix dissonant and discotheque currents is more pronounced elsewhere however, as on “Treeline”, where harmonized keys and reeds slowly give way to cymbal splatters and torque clarinet vibrations, with the tempo maintained by a moderate synthesizer groove; or “Future Told”, where low-pitched keyboard patterning and twittering synthesizer splutters create a mysterious narrative that’s contrasted with strained reed slurs and only wraps into swing after Taylor’s drum beat shuffles intensify. Unfolding as the equivalent of a fife-and-drums march “Frencher Frosty's Book” is the most distinctive tune, with staccato bass clarinet trills and mid-range drum raps evolving on top of a steady electronic drone. Putting aside brief intermezzos that are oriented around synthesizer gurgles and noodling, the trio maintains its sassy admixture of shrewd and groove during the introductory “Back and Forth” that literally moves the exposition from slinky keyboard echoes and a bass ostinato to staccato angled expansions from the reedist to the unbeatable vibration of the concluding “Slippery Slope.” Mixing Giallorenzo’s funky throbs and Stein referencing as much of a R&B tenor saxophone as can come from a bass clarinet, plus Taylor’s backbeat, the tune – and CD – climaxes with a splashing tremolo them anchored by a swaying bass line from the keyboardist.

More personal in that he composed all the originals, as opposed to sharing the other session’s credits with Taylor and Giallorenzo, After Caroline captures mid-career creativity by three musicians who intuit each other’s every mood. This is brought out most forcefully, on “26-2”, a John Coltrane composition, which is a contrafact of “Confirmation” and despite its slippery charm finds the group galloping through a Bebop-like trope that contracts as markedly with the rest of the tunes as a wolfhound in a pack of Labradors.

More generic to Locksmith Isidore’s individualized exploration are tracks such as “Walden’s Thing” and “Eckhart Park” which isolate divergent facets of the trio’s work. The first theme is propelled forward with double-sock drumming, reed obbligatos and focused string strums until Stein dissects it with staccato flutters and peeps, and then puts it back together while maintaining the same elevated tone with powerful punctuation. Balanced, but not flashy, “Eckhart Park” ambles along at a moderates speed, aided by coloratura reed puffs and heavy drum action. Pausing to extend and punctuate his output with tongue flutters and extensions, Stein shoves as many timbres and peeps imaginable into the narrative while Roebke steady beat and Taylor’s pops keep the piece from becoming unbalanced.

A study in contrasts, the penultimate, “You Taught Me How to Love” and final track “We Gone” confirm the trio’s musical flexibility. “You Taught Me How to Love” is a discreet narrative that could have come from the American songbook. Mainstream with an edge, it gives Roebke space for a moderated bass solo. In contrast “We Gone” could slip onto a Rock session without notice, as hard and heavy thumping from Taylor, which digs in to maintain the beat. Still, the rockers would be dismayed by Stein’s tongue jujitsu, characterized by smears and slurs that work up to the altissimo range.

Pick a disc or hear both to sample the creative ferment that continues in Chicago. Not only does Stein keep developing as a clarinetist and composer, but these CDs show that his associates are keeping pace with him.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Electroradiance: 1. Back and Forth 2. Treeline 3. Step'n 4. Rivet and Roll 5. Frencher Frosty's Book 6. Electroradiance 7. Slowly Drifting Outward 8. Future Told 9. Shreveport 10. Relativistic 11. Slippery Slope

Personnel: Electroradiance: Jason Stein (bass clarinet); Paul Giallorenzo (synthesizer and keyboards) and Chad Taylor (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: After: 1. As Many Chances As You Need 2. Eckhart Park 3. Ida Like 4. 26-2 5. Sternum 6. Walden’s Thing 7. You Taught Me How to Love 8. We Gone

Personnel: After: Jason Stein (bass clarinet); Jason Roebke (bass) and Mike Pride (drums)