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  • Writer's pictureJAM

John Stein: Serendipity

Guitarist John Stein, born and raised in KC, now internationally renowned, has aired a new album, one chiefly of classic jazz standards. He and his trio breathe new life into these solid, known, beloved tunes, such as “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Well, You Needn’t,” and “How Insensitive.” Joined by Ed Lucie on bass and Mike Connors on drums, Stein makes a kind of everyday magic in this album. It’s an album straight-ahead jazz lovers will likely adore and set to and keep on repeat.

Stein, who serves as Professor in the Harmony Department at Berklee College of Music-Boston, gives a kind of musical tour and “lesson” with this album on how to keep the standards fresh, current, and lively. Albums like this one reveal a deep commitment, a lifetime of study, and, as Stein is quoted as saying in All About Jazz, “albums like this one stem from that type of dedication: My music is the result of a lifetime’s involvement with my instrument, the guitar, and many hours studying theory, composition, arranging, and musical history.”

Stein’s trio is cohesive, seamless. There is trust. There is careful listening and interplay. And space is made for the individual, the solo sound. Stein’s melodic work and solos are bright and commanding, but carefully, intentionally sparse, in the living line of other masterful modern guitarists like Joe Pass. Lucie’s bass solos groove hard and are often tastefully intricate. Connors’s traded drum solos, such as on “Labor of Love,” are tasty and spacious, melodic in the way a Max Roach or Paul Motian solo is. They’re clean and lean. And as a group, there is also always forward motion. Stein’s group swings.

Stein’s arrangement of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” is a quicker, brighter interpretation than, say, the one on “Coltrane’s Sound,” but that’s what makes Stein’s so refreshing. Stein’s version seems made more for the rush of the freeway, the windows down, the air streaming by, like a light arpeggio rush of notes. The trio is able to showcase their swift dexterity on this tune. For this trio, there are no quick tunes, their fingers (and minds) ever nimble.

Some albums you have to work to listen to. This is not one of those albums. This is one you can just put on and groove to. You can let the masterful musicians do their work, their magic. You are in good hands.

Get your copy wherever quality music is sold. —Kevin Rabas

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