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January/February 2001

John Stetch
Heavens of a Hundred Days
Justin Time Records

Heavens of a Hundred Days has a dreamy and vaporous vibe: the music is spacious and meditative even when upbeat. Stetch rarely charges up and down the keyboard: he seems perfectly happy to strike a plaintive chord or tap out single-note lines that sound like rocks dropped in a stream. The group obviously enjoys pulling a tune apart and bending it out of shape, but they seldom depart from it completely. On two standards and a host of originals, the piano sets the mood-playful, lilting, yet considered-and the tunes develop gracefully, without urgency. "Humble Unfolding," a dancing tenor-and-piano ballad, best describes what these musicians are up to.

The light approach does generate some moments of soft-focus piano jazz-pleasant but not particularly memorable. And tenorman Bill McHenry, though wonderfully tender and laconic when he spells out a theme, comes up flat when left to his own devices. But at their most considered, this band plays with calmness and a tuneful sense of quiet disorder that makes for some handsome music. Stetch shows his dark, romantic side on "Urakawa," his postbopped Japanese folk melody, and on the 10-minute version of Porter's "Love for Sale," the pianist boils the melody down to bare bones and lets the spaces speak for themselves.

Originally published in January/February 2001
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