The self-titled debut album from Hearts and Minds reminds us that a Jason Stein-involved project goes heavy on both the instinctual and the intellectual ends of the music. The bass clarinet ace’s approach demonstrated with his Locksmith Isidore trio has had a free/avant-garde bent that doesn’t lose touch with jazz tradition of the 50s and 60s, often carrying forward the spirit and innovations of Steve Lacy. This current Chicago-based trio, though is a different animal from that Stein/Mike Reed/Jason Roebke combo though, exchanging a bassist with Stein’s childhood friend and keyboard man Paul Giallorenzo. Moreover, this drummer, Frank Rosaly, handles weird electronic noises too. And, this is billed without Stein’s name, as Hearts and Minds is a democracy with Stein sharing composing duties with Giallorenzo, and Rosaly playing a bigger role in shaping these sketches more than what’s usual for a drummer.
The “electro” part of this electro-acoustic outing isn’t what puts this music on the frontier edge of jazz; heck, the electric piano Giallorenzo uses could have well been the same one Chick Corea played on Miles Davis’ Filles de Kilimanjaro back in 1968. Rather, it’s the veering, unconfining nature of the performances that places the music in the vanguard. The plugged and unplugged parts are cleverly massed together compatibly.
Matter of fact, Rosaly’s bent circuitry meshes so well with Stein’s gruff squeals on “Stocky” it’s hard to tell where one instrument ends and the other begins. The building blocks of bebop can be heard on “Rocked and Eroded,” Stein’s well-versed diction in that style in full display. But the twist comes when his serpentine lines are shadowed by Giallorenzo’s vintage-sounding electric piano, and in a classic Stein move, the band stretches out toward freedom using bop as the launching point.
“The Western Situation” is free, led by Stein’s tortured bass clarinet. Giallorenzo sketches out the bass line on left side of his keyboard for both “Three For One” and “Streaming” while the right side harmonizes with Stein. Knob twisting blurts coincide with Stein and Rosaly’s short quips during “An Unfortunate Lack of Role Models” ahead of Stein cutting loose.
The first half of “Nick Masonry” — decidedly not Pink Floydian — is Stein blurting out an endless stream of ideas from his horn with his cohorts working hard to keep up. The other two assert themselves in the second half by locking onto a groove that compels Stein to mine it. Giallorenzo’s electric keys impersonates a bass walk for “Irresolute” and Stein goes into dark shades mode over fidgety brush work from Rosaly, in a song that exudes Eisenhower-era cool. Crackling electro-buzzes compete with Stein’s incessant bass clarinet musings on “Old Balance,” until Giallorenzo introduces a figure that the other two latch into; Rosaly thunders through an imposing performance that nearly upstages Stein.
Not always tuneful but unfailingly engaging and playful, Hearts and Minds exemplifies the best qualities of adventurous Chicago jazz.
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