Jason Stein Quartet – Lucille! (2017)

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feature photo: Shea Whinnery

Recently, Jason Stein dropped more old school avant-jazz on us. Lucille! (Delmark Records) is a quartet date from the bandleader, composer and ace bass clarinetist that — like his last quartet record The Story This Time (2011) — offers modern-day explorations of the pioneering music of jazz guru Lennie Tristano.

This chord-less foursome once again has fellow Chicago heavyweights Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, contrabass clarinet) and Joshua Abrams (bass) in the lineup, with drums this time coming from one of NYC’s finest, Tom Rainey. Also carrying over is a fare of tunes from Tristano, Tristano protégé Warne Marsh, Thelonious Monk and other forward-looking composing greats, along with a few from Stein himself.

Marsh’s “Marshmallow” is a blast of crisp, radicalized bebop featuring excellent interplay between Stein and Jackson (sometimes fooling my ears into thinking there are three horns playing instead of two) and Rainey goosing it up with well-placed fills and bombs. For “Halls And Rooms,” Stein and Rainey improvise superbly together before giving way to allow Jackson and Abrams to do the same. For an additional twist, Rainey re-enters to make more hay after which the two reedmen return to their tightly intertwined opening theme.

Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity” is given a fresh look with the dueling clarinets and Robert Hurst’s “Roused About” lifts off from the free form discussion held by Stein and Rainey by launching into a finger-snapping swing, but the horns stay loose throughout.

Rainey’s supple drumming is again called upon to provide calypso-styled patterns on Stein’s own number “Ryder’s Uncle Dragon” and another original “I Knew You Were” is a full-on excursion outside where Abrams’ bowed bass throws off imposing, low-end tones similar to Stein’s bass clarinet.

Stein and Jackson (on tenor sax) use the occasion of Tristano’s “Wow” to lead in unison virtually from beginning to end. The other Tristano tune is “April,” where Stein dazzles on his bass clarinet in the unconfined intro before more of that stellar band coaction that’s heard throughout the whole record.

It’s Jason Stein’s first album in six years, but he hadn’t skipped a beat; Lucille! is frisky, capricious and yet calculating as much as The Story This Time. Another fun-filled jazz history lesson on the connection between Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman.

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