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April 2004

Loren Stillman Quartet
How Sweet it Is
Nagel-Heyer

Alto saxophonist Stillman, in his early 20s, is quite a discovery and destined for a bright future in jazz. That's the consensus of Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Dick Oatts and Ted Nash, as quoted in label owner Frank Nagel-Heyer's liner notes. After hearing the album, I certainly concur with their opinion.

Stillman, who studied with Liebman, Nash and Lee Konitz, is a fluid improviser with a melancholy streak. He does not throw his chops around; instead, he proceeds with forethought, abstraction and gracefulness, like a combination of Konitz and Greg Osby. His tone is full of light and shadows, and his rhythms dart and glide and lay in wait.

The album recalls the atmosphere of Manfred Eicher's impressionistic ECM label productions, although with more warmth. Stillman penned all the tunes; they're the kind of songs that in performance inspire rhythmic elasticity of the Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley and Herbie Hancock type. They have titles such as "Between the Devil and God," "Happy," "Meat" and "Meat Snake." The last named has a fractured jazz-rock beat and leads pianist Russ Lossing into stormy, Cecil Taylor-like territory. Bassist Scott Lee and drummer Jeff Hirshfield round out the quartet with a fine degree of sensitivity and a wide range of experience.

Perhaps Stillman's greatest asset at this point is his decision (and capacity) to play introspectively as well as livelier. He expresses his ideas and emotions in a mature, nuanced manner. He's off to a good start, and different from the pack of young saxophonists today.

Originally published in April 2004
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