Bass clarinetist Jason Stein is in a major comfort zone on Lucille! Named after his now 3-year-old daughter, the album features a pair of his Chicago cronies, Keefe Jackson (on tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet) and Joshua Abrams (on bass). Three of the songs come from the timeless triumvirate of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh—all Stein favorites. Another tune, “Little Rootie Tootie,” was composed by Monk for his son.
So why is it that, far from a vacation in the studio, Lucille! sounds so cutting and alive—so invitingly wide awake? The introduction of the great New York-based drummer Tom Rainey to the quartet certainly provides one elevating X factor. But the ongoing excitement of the album has more to do with the bold independent voice Stein brings to his instrument, and the ability he has to pull those around him into his orbit. His sense of risk can be powerfully liberating: the Monk standard played in full free-jazz mode; Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity” turned into a bop adventure for clarinets, with its ground-scraping unison lines and inquisitive counterpoint.
Basking in the close chemistry they have developed over the years, Stein and Jackson get Lucille! off to an exhilarating start with their racing figures on Marsh’s “Marshmallow,” before opening the tune up to explore melodic possibilities. And they invigorate Robert Hurst’s bebop original “Roused About”—a great find named for the late tenor great Charlie Rouse—with their postmodern touch. Tristano’s “Wow” is tougher and a lot more excitable than the composer might have imagined. Among Stein’s three originals, “I Knew You Were” deftly sets the leader against Abrams’ bagpipe-like drones, while “Halls and Rooms” is an expansive vehicle that opens in easy-swinging fashion (dig Rainey’s charismatic textural touches) before proceeding down a path of edgy introspection.