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  • Writer's pictureJAM

John Stein


Whaling City Sound—WCS 121

Jazz guitarist John Stein has produced his 15th album, Watershed, the 11th recording for his long-time label, Whaling City Sound. For this outing, his band includes Frank Herzberg (bass), Zé Eduardo Nazario (drums), Daniel Grajew (keyboards), and Teco Cardoso (flute and saxes). Twelve tunes on the disc clocks in right at an hour’s worth of music, featuring seven of Stein’s original compositions.

The session opens with “Rio Escuro,” a silky samba that features the melody played by Cardoso on alto flute in unison with John, whose tasty, economic solo is followed by fluid Fender Rhodes licks from Daniel.

“Kobe” is a medium-tempo swinger (with shades of Shorter’s “Speak No Evil”) that really lets the walking bass of Herzberg shine throughout the tune, while Grajew spits out a blistering acoustic piano solo. “Taste of Honey” is a tune made popular by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Band in 1965; but this version sounds nothing like the original—it’s a lot sassier, since it swings in a ¾ waltz, has a slickly-designed compressed melody, and has hipper changes.

The pace quickens with the brisk “Brazilian Hug,” which shows what John does best—he serves up a cleanly articulated melody, followed by a thoughtful solo. The perky, insightful solo on the Rhodes from Daniel Grajew makes the song soar.

Stein slows things down with “Mystified,” a beautiful ballad that balances single-notes and chord-melody with the deft touch somewhere in the neighborhood of legendary jazz guitarist Russell Malone—which is saying something. Things pick up quickly with the tight 6/8 shuffle of “Wally,” a re-harmonized blues where John weaves his way through the terrain with both care and grace (in this one we finally hear a bit of solo work from Zé Eduardo Nazario on drums, and it’s refreshing, to say the least.)

“The Kicker” (written by tenor titan Joe Henderson) gets a wonderful treatment, with a smoking sax solo from Cardoso, buoyed by a percolating drum solo and bubbly Rhodes piano from Garjew. Overall, it’s probably one of the tightest tracks on the disc.

“Waltz New” features a duo-unison melody line between John and Frank that highlights their musical closeness. Although the tune’s changes are the same as “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the melody certainly is more lyrically inventive here.

A laid-back rendition of “Cisco” (from Pat Martino’s 1967 El Hombre album) is a respectful nod from Stein to Martino—one of the great jazz guitar masters, and the brief but bopping bass solo of Herzberg sparkles, as does the bluesy Rhodes licks from Grajew, not to mention the conclusive, rollicking drum solo from Nazario.

The well-known ballad “Dreamsville” is delivered simply and beautifully by John, who taps into the spirit of Kenny Burrell in terms of both tone and touch.

“Charlotte” (one of three titles on the album named after John’s daughter’s dogs) an easy-going affair that has winding-road set of descending ii-V-I changes, with light-and-breezy solos on soprano sax, electric piano, and guitar.

The album closes with an up-tempo cooker, “The Hang” which pushes John’s usually reserved spirit closer to the edge where Daniel Grajew seems most comfortable. The tune is over in only two minutes, yet it still serves as a delightful romp as it sends the listener home on a rhythmic and melodic high.

When the dust settles, it’s clear that this album stands up as an enjoyable winner, and Stein gets to rejoice in his victory lap. Kudos to the crew at Whaling City Sounds for sticking by him for all these years—their loyalty to John is paying big dividends.

—Wayne Goins

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