Jason Stein Quartet: The Story This Time

The bass clarinet, despite the thrilling efforts of Eric Dolphy, Bennie Maupin, David Murray and others, has long been considered a secondary jazz instrument, a curiosity. But not by Jason Stein. Smartly, the Chicagoan doesn’t treat his unconventional woodwind as a novelty, yet he is also well aware that he’s got something different happening. If The Story This Time places him at the top of his chosen category by default, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned the ranking. This record kills.

Stein-who released a solo performance album in 2009-teams here with fellow Chicagoans Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone, contrabass clarinet), Joshua Abrams on bass and drummer Frank Rosaly. The double-horn frontline allows for torrid, bop-rooted synchronicity and numerous moments of unfettered exploration. “Laced Case,” the album’s second and longest track and one of five Stein compositions, travels between both worlds, its swinging, odd-metered intro yielding to an extended exercise in free riffing/noise generating by the horns before the rhythm players jump back and rein it in.

The Story This Time’s second-heaviest contributor of song material is one Thelonious Monk. Stein and crew get plenty of mileage out of the melodies provided them in “Skippy,” “Gallop’s Gallop” and “Work,” that last tune treated as a somnolent, crawling dirge that threatens to come to a complete halt more than once, yet exudes its own kind of ecstasy as it ebbs and flows. Three other well-chosen covers-Lennie Tristano’s boppish “Lennie Bird,” Warne Marsh’s deceivingly straightforward “Background Music” (anything but) and a take on Lee Konitz’s “Palo Alto” that segues from chaotic banter to chic stroll-fill out a recording that is almost always gratifying.