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April 2008

Loren Stillman
Trio Alto Volume 2
SteepleChase
Loren Stillman
Blind Date
Pirouet

Alto saxophonist Loren Stillman hasn’t reached age 30 yet but he’s rapidly stockpiling an impressive discography. His approach justifies the catalog, with a musical mind that can play it straight or excel in exploratory surroundings. He often sounds a bit like one of his main influences, Lee Konitz, due to his approach and no-nonsense tone.

The first volume of Trio Alto focused on standards and jazz classics. Trio Alto Volume 2 finds Stillman with a different rhythm section (bassist John Hebert, drummer Take Toriyama) and an eye toward freer situations. It finds the Konitz influence combining with the bite of Tim Berne, especially in the nine-minute “Sonic Boom,” on which he begins alone, with bass and drums treating the tempo with elasticity when they join him a couple minutes later. The equally lengthy “Liquid Radio” is marked by rising and falling dynamics. In “A Bright Idea,” the tempo shifts to double time and back, a la “Brilliant Corners.” “All Over the Place” accurately describes the disc’s 14-minute finale, but none of that time gets wasted.

After the successful trio date, a quartet with Gary Versace (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) reads like a great combination, as all four can easily play on the inside looking out. But Blind Date lacks the spark that makes its forerunner so strong. Granted, the quartet seems more interested in working within more conventional structures, but they never seem to play with the cohesion of a solid unit. In “Legroom,” for example, Versace supports Stillman’s solo but the rhythm seems to just hang in the background in anticipation for a moment to pick up. Stillman is never at a loss for something to say, but he often plays as if he doesn’t know how to direct his ideas. On a number of tracks, his alto lapses into some tart staccato lines and bounces off the angles and rhythms for support rather than using his melodic sense. Blind Date isn’t a bad album, but it proves that Stillman sounds best when he’s pushed by his bandmates.

Originally published in April 2008
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