Fatherhood seems to inform everything Steve LaSpina does. Tragically, it was the death of his son and the illness of his daughter that shaped the bassist’s last release, 2002’s Remember When. At the time, LaSpina said it was his final work; he was done recording. Thankfully, time has changed his mind. His daughter is well, and four years later he has emerged with a new outlook and a new album that celebrates life and fatherhood. (Formerly a single parent, LaSpina also has a new wife, and has written a lovely piano-bass duet, “Melissa,” for her.)
The title track of Play Room sets the bright and sunny mood immediately. It’s a whimsical piece, and LaSpina’s quintet infuses it with childlike wonder. Dave Ballou puts a lot of imagination into his trumpeting, Jeff Hirshfield’s drumming is crisp and Gary Versace’s bubbly touch on the Hammond B3 adds texture that never threatens to overwhelm the group interplay. Saxophonist Billy Drewes zigzags through a head-turning solo. All of this in the album’s first seven minutes!
LaSpina, for his part, gives us a quick-paced solo near the end of a long suite (called “Suite”) that displays great dexterity, and his writing—he composed all of the CD’s seven tracks—is sophisticated yet accessible.
On its face, Play Room is a solid, enjoyable record. But when you realize what LaSpina has been through, you hear it as an exceptional piece of work.