|Recorded April 2005.
The composite of saxophone, bass and drums remains one of the gold standards in jazz, so much so that players risk banality in its application. Nevertheless, it’s still less common to find an alto fronting such a combination than its larger sibling the tenor. With Trio Alto, Loren Stillman places his horn and intellect in just such a situation with several buffers in place to help ensure success. I got a kick out of his first Steeplechase, The Brother’s Breakfast, an album that pivoted on the uncommon teaming of alto with B-3 organ and drums. This new one, apparently the first of two parts, is just as fun though quite different in design and overall intent.
One of the first aspects evident is the strong Konitzian feel, both in Stillman’s choice of standards and his clever melodic interpolations. Think a new millennial Motion with a slightly harder edge and you’re on the right track. There’s also a fair bit of Bird by way of Jackie McLean. Stillman’s tone is light, but cut with an underlying bite; his cursive attack matches agility with grace. Bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Jeff Hirschfield (also heard on the earlier Breakfast session), deliver just the right balance of foreground vigor and background support. Thanks to the economical surroundings and Stillman’s consistently congenial mien solos from both are prevalent, the amplified snap LaSpina’s walk and Hirschfield’s deftness with brushes being two memorable elements. The drummer’s cymbal play tends toward the busy side, but that’s a minor quibble.
In certain circles, much is still made of jazz improvisers operating in the absence of strict chordal accompaniment. In the case of this trio, it seems like second nature and as such, any lingering novelty of their instrumentation is replaced with a cognizance of just how well they dovetail together. Two Bill Evans tunes and rundown of “Body and Soul” that manages to stitch a shred or two of new fabric into the moth-eaten saxophone staple supply fodder both familiar and less so. Stillman’s lone original “The State of the World” fits right in sandwiched between the sprinting bebop of Bird’s “Red Cross” and an unexpectedly intense take on Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” as a melancholy blues with muscle. The Kern piece even contains a clever string of quotes that harkens directly back to Sonny Rollins Village Vanguard reading of the tune. Rollins also comes prominently to mind on the stampeding take of “What is This Thing Called Love.” At 55-minutes, the set is a bit short by Steeplechase’s usual standards, but I suppose the brevity is intended to breed anticipation for the companion volume. The strategy worked on me.
~ Derek Taylor