In a perfect world, critics would always hear a band live, playing music from their new record, right before sitting down with the record to review it. For Outliers, the stars so aligned. Stephan Crump’s Rosetta Trio appeared in the Just Jazz series at Mr Musichead Gallery on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on February 27, 2019. Work on this review began the next morning.
Live versions of tunes are often longer and looser than recorded ones. Not so much here. Crump (acoustic bass), Liberty Ellman (acoustic guitar), and Jamie Fox (electric guitar), on record or in person, sound disciplined. Concentration is required to create such intricate patterns of counterpoint.
Yet there are differences. Live, it was easier to feel the heat below the cool surface of this music. The album is more inward and wistful. “Re Eyes” is a sigh of yearning. It could be a country song. Crump is from Memphis. When Fox begins to improvise, Ellman offers an alternate narrative with a stark repeated figure. Crump’s arrangements leverage the unique resources of his small string orchestra.
“Away From, A Way To” is another Crump melody like a transitory gesture, but its haunting quality lingers. Space is allocated for Fox and Ellman to separately reimagine the song. In their comping for one another, counterlines and solos merge. Crump’s bass lines contribute dark drama. Why aren’t there more string choirs in jazz?
Crump’s previous album, Rhombal, was a eulogy for a brother lost to cancer. “Dec 5” is a piece for his brother Patrick that Crump “held back” from Rhombal. Like most of his compositions, it sounds like a spiritual journey toward acceptance.
Outliers provides an approximation of the live gig experience, but offers the advantage of repeated listenings, where you keep encountering new revelations within Crump’s modest, deep music.