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Loren Stillman: Winter Fruits & Knu Gmoon
By George Kanzler
Loren Stillman Winter Fruits Pirouet 2009
Knu Gmoon Knu Gmoon self-published 2009
Everything old can be new again could be the motto of the ensembles on these two albums. And the emphasis is definitely on the group/ensemble on both, one a quartet led by by alto saxophonist Loren Stillman and the other a Brooklyn-based project band conceptualized by bassist Noah Jarrett that also features Stillman. Stillman's quartet on Winter Fruits seems conventional enough, on paper. Alto sax, guitar, organ and drums: not much different from scores of soul-jazz and retro-hardbop discs in instrumentation. But if you come to this CD expecting something familiar in that vein, you'll be taken aback. The alto sounds more like Anthony Braxton or even Paul Desmond than Lou Donaldson; the guitar (Nate Radley) is far from both blues and soul; the organ (Gary Versace) not only eschews the bass/bottom role but also employs a panoply of tones and stops far from the Jimmy Smith standard and drummer Ted Poor is more colorist than kicker, more amorphous than groove-oriented. This is a finely calibrated ensemble, with subtle dynamics closer to the Modern Jazz Quartet than an organ combo, full of colors, textures, shadings and a rapport akin to a string quartet. The group dynamic is in full effect on the opening track, Poor's “Muted Dreams,” alto rising with guitar as cymbals shimmer and the organ resembles a calliope repeating a theme that develops in a slow, mostly collective, semi-improvised arc. Poor suggests or implies times and rhythms rather than stating them for the most part, except for his jaunty syncopations on the title tune (his only other composition; Stillman wrote the rest); he also contributes to group crescendos with acceleration while the ensemble raises volume. Only a few individual solos stand out--alto and organ on the torchy “With You”; alto and guitar on the power ballad “Like A Magic Kiss”--but the triumph of this album is in the rich interplay and intricate group dynamics. Group dynamics and rich interplay are also paramount on the short (under half an hour) Knu Gmoon, with individual, outfront solos in even shorter supply than on Winter Fruits. The shortest track, “Weight of Water” at 2:58, has a world/folk vibe with a tabla rhythm, coupled flutes and guitar parsing a theme. The longest, “Murmer/Shout” at 7:40, opens with an exotic Eastern modal theme, percussion and guitar joined by two saxes (Stillman and tenor saxist Tony Barba), then morphs into a waltz before solos from guitar (Mike Gamble) and tenor sax over variations on 4/4. That track, as well as “Mental Custodian” and “Remiss,” are reminiscent of Charles Mingus in their episodic plenitude and expanding polyphonies. The creativity and unpredictability of the ensemble sound is also enriched by Gamble's cornucopia of guitar strategies and the addition of electronic “fx.”
Tracks and Personnel Winter Fruits Tracks: Muted Dreams; Skin; Man of Mystery; With You; Like a Magic Kiss; A Song to Be Played; Winter Fruits; Puffy. Personnel: Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Nate Radley: guitar; Gary Versace: organ; Ted Poor drums. Knu Gmoon Tracks: Murmer/Shout; Remiss; Mental Custodian; Weight of Water; Inconvenient Solipsism; Reminiscience [cq]. Personnel: Noah Jarrett, bass/composer; Tony Barba, tenor and soprano sax, flute; Loren Stillman, alto sax, flute; Mike Gamble, guitars, fx; Robin Khemani, drums, tabla; Rich Stein, percussion, fx; Shawn Trail, marimba (2), sangban (5).
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