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.