Tag Archives: Locksmith Isidore

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

JASON STEIN’S LOCKSMITH ISIDORE – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)Incontrovertibly struck by Eric Dolphy’s melodic jumpiness, bass clarinettist Jason Stein doesn’t wish that influence to take complete possess of his artistry. Having chosen a difficult tool for being remembered – in order to tackle a greater number of creative challenges, he says – Stein works in the alley where memory and newness fight, producing a kind of cunningly disjointed linear matter that sounds both antagonistic and lucid. In Three Less Than Between he’s flanked by equally clever companions, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride; the resulting hour of interplay exudes vibrancy and authority. Three personalities of equal weight share a collective profit; the most prominent constituent – the leader’s incessant search for different ways of saying something meaningful via a scarcely diffused reed instrument – does not detract from the feel of utter functionality elicited by Roebke’s inspired experimentations and Pride’s appropriate rhythmic dislocations. Needless to say, in such a milieu there’s practically no room for melancholy or fond reminiscence: the trio looks constantly forward, assuming that angular counterpoints and opinionated witticism do best in a world where men who sweat with eyes closed pretending to be connected with superior entities hide a shortage of inventiveness behind the façades of those invocations. Better staying concrete and bright, a lesson that Locksmith Isidore have learnt without flinching and, for our good luck, keep applying.

Jazzgram review by Alain Drouot

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)
Jazz musicians who focus exclusively on the bass clarinet are rare: Todd Marcus (on the East Coast), Denis Colin (in Paris, France), and Rudi Mahall (in Berlin, Germany) come to mind. But Chicago can also boast to be the home (since 2005) of one such artist, Jason Stein. As a member of Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, Keefe Jackson’s Project Project or Ken Vandermark’s Bridge 61, Stein has clearly been associated with the North Side free jazz scene. But like many of his peers he is not that easy to pigeonhole as can testify his own project, Locksmith Isidore. This is the second album by this trio which also includes fellow Chicago bass player Jason Roebke and New York drummer Mike Pride. To this day, the obvious reference for the bass clarinet remains the great Eric Dolphy. However, Stein’s music and style owes a debt to another colossus, Ornette Coleman. The clarinetist’s idea is to aim for a dual approach that encompasses abstraction and swing. And the drummer’s and bassist’s roles can be viewed as divided along those lines. Pride, who has acquired a solid reputation as a madman, shows a different side here. He harnesses his energy to provide a powerful drive. On the other hand, Roebke’s playing could not be further from a walking bass. The string player is more interested in phrasing jagged lines or working on textures that will provide a stark backdrop (he also takes a few impressive and muscular solos). This emboldens Stein who can take a pretty and frail melody (“Stevenesque”) and deconstruct it as he sees fit. Elsewhere, he takes a more direct approach to explore timbres and tones. Doing so, the clarinetist is carving a place for himself in the bass clarinet brotherhood.

All About Jazz New York review by John Sharpe

Rudi Mahall/Simon Nabatov/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger – Nicht Ohne Robert Volume 1 (JazzHaus Musik)
Sonnenschirm Heinrich Köbberling (Jazzwerkstatt)
Jason Stein – In Exchange for a Process  (Leo)
Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)

Although the bass clarinet had found favor in the past (Ellington’s baritone saxophonist Harry Carney occasionally toted one) it wasn’t until Eric Dolphy blazed the trail in 1960 that the instrument began to be more widely aired. In his seminal book Jazz German critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt writes, “unlike the conventional, clarinet, the bass clarinet can also produce colors that jazz saxophonists appreciate: vocal, rough, overblown sounds.” Not surprisingly then most of the musicians who use the larger horn also choose to double on saxophones, using the more sonorous instrument for a change of pace or tone. Even Dolphy, who allied his virtuoso approach with a wildly vocalized tone to electrifying effect, notably on Ornette’s Free Jazz but also with Coltrane on Live at the Village Vanguard, also featured alto saxophone and flute. But that’s no longer the case. These four discs, feature two reedmen who have taken bass clarinet as their sole axe and they make a convincing case for the scope it can cover and the benefits of specialization.

Rudi Mahall (veteran of various groups led by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach) assumes a prominent role on Nicht Ohne Robert Volume 1, the first of a putative ongoing series documenting first-time meetings with upcoming German bassist Robert Landfermann. The young bassist has chosen his accomplices wisely to start this venture; alongside the experienced bass clarinetist are accomplished improviser and composer Simon Nabatov (piano) and Cologne regular Christian Lillinger (drums). Recorded at the renowned Loft, the four pieces are freely improvised without lead sheets, rehearsals or agreements to act as a safety net. Mahall jumps in from the off, starting in the clarinet range, Nabatov etching blocky chords in support, presaging a sequence of dense exciting interplay. The lengthy first piece sets the template for the set: shifting combinations with the focus passing round the band in unpredictable fashion. Nabatov probes and pummels with two-handed mastery. While Mahall dances elegantly on “I”, he traverses the further reaches elsewhere, signaled by the harsh blasts and vocalized whimpers of “II”, before enjoying a concluding duet with the nimble Landfermann on “IV”.

Sonnenschirm under the leadership of drummer Heinrich Köbberling contains a 65-minute program of nine originals supplemented by three short duets for Mahall and each bandmember. There is a relaxed airy feel to the date with pleasantly harmonious tunes and soloing, like sunshine sparkling on a glistening swimming pool. Mahall seems intent on echoing West Coast tenor saxophone or clarinet in preference to demonstrating the distinctive traits of the instrument. In itself that is fascinating, but also fits right in with the milieu of Köbberling’s quartet. Expatriate American bassist Paul Imm contributes melodic solos, as on “Pisces”, and understated time while Köbberling is similarly tasteful and responsive. Pianist Tino Derado also doubles on accordion, overdubbed to round out some of the ensembles, and pitches in with some bright solos as on “You Better Put It In The Tupperware” and “Bobby”. While Mahall does inevitably tend to wildness around the edges, he might easily have been on standard clarinet for this comparatively mainstream session, an avenue worth investigating for those enamored of the ECM sound but looking for a new name to pick up on.

Unlike Mahall, Chicago-based Jason Stein’s conception focuses firmly on the extremes capable of being extracted from the bass clarinet and all that lies between. It would be a fruitless task attempting to describe each track on Stein’s solo outing In Exchange for a Process. Each of the 11 cuts is an improvisation based around exploration of unconventional sound and pitch gained through a variety of advanced techniques. Stein seems to alight upon promising areas and then prospects them at greater length, like the keypad popping of “Paint By Number” or whinnying cries of “Temporary Framing of Dr. J”. However, notwithstanding Stein’s invention, ultimately the lack of differentiation afforded by charts, context or colleagues makes for a demanding listen even though spread over no more than 42 minutes. Three Less Than Between is the sophomore offering from Stein’s Locksmith Isidore. Over the course of an hour the trio delineates an intense free-form territory across 11 tracks, even though all are credited to the hornman. Stein has annexed associates who are as interested in timbre and tone as him, which manifests in a well-balanced trio of equals confident in how they will react and alert to new directions. Jason Roebke’s assertive bass veers between tough-toned bursts of rhythm, ringing harmonics and arco scrapes and blends well with drummer Mike Pride, who moves easily between clattering texture and more gradated time. Stein has some lovely moments, stretching out on “Stevenesque” with extended squeals developing organically from the theme, touching on the same sort  of areas as his solo album, but with greater success derived from the more overtly musical setting. A pleasing passage on “Augusta Gun” pitches hesitant and slurred bass clarinet against metallic percussion textures before the walking bass takes to the floor again. While the heads are no more than functional, they provide a great launching pad for involved free collective improv, from the perky opening “Protection And Provocation” to the doomy portent of the low-key “Sad Crestwood”.

Jazz Review review by Ken Waxman

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)
Conscious Mental Field Recordings (Satelita 002)
Olivier Thémines Trio – Miniatures (Yolk Label J2044)

Once relegated to sessions that attempt to revive Swing Music or Classic Jazz, members of the clarinet family have moved front-and-centre on the improvised music scene, at least since the early 1990s. This ends the reed hegemony of the saxophone which has been paramount at least since Bebop’s birth around 1939.

As these CDs demonstrate though, the newest generation of woodwind players is versatile enough to use technique and imagination to overcome the instrument(s) supposed soft tone and lack of suppleness when performing difficult music. At the same time, creating with equally committed players is a necessity – as is choice of proper material – or the woodwinds’ admirably pliable qualities turn squishy and spongy.

This certainly isn’t the case with Conscious Mental Field Recordings. Thick resonating vibrations from the bass of Norwegian Adrian Myhr make common cause with the microtonal timbres emanating from the clarinets of Paris’ Joris Rühl as well as the twanging distortions creaking scrapes and signal-processed electronic pulses from the guitar of Köln’s Maciej Sledziecki.

With Rühl, who often plays with other French improvisers such as pianist Eve Risser, alternating among angled chalumeau flutters, strident pockets of altissimo trills or restrained flat-line air expelling, the others have plenty of textures with which to deal. However at some points, the clarinet’s legit vibrato is seconded by watery string rubs; at others, the woodwind player’s strident peeps and screams are undermined by percussive guitar-string strums or knob-twisting amplified flams.

Careful to evolve contrapuntally throughout, however no trio member’s resonance overwhelm the others’, although the oscillated pulsations and clattering rubs that characterize Sledziecki’s work provide the percussive bottom to most of the tracks. Hocketing, fluttering and twanging, the guitarist, who also develops computer-based composition, produces sturdy balanced ostinatos throughout. The droning centrality of his licks are challenged on individual tracks when the reed man outputs gravelly striations, squealing yelps or pointed tongue slaps.

Cooperation is in evidence as well on Three Less Than Between from three Chicago improvisers. But there’s no denying that bass clarinetist Jason Stein is the senior partner. For a start, all the compositions are his, as is the name of the trio – honoring his late grandfather and the older man’s profession. Drummer Mike Pride was along for the first Locksmith Isidore CD, but bassist Jason Roebke – who has backed everyone from trombonist Jeb Bishop to cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm – wasn’t. Now with an even-more-unified and powerful rhythmic base, Stein has his work cut out for him to avoid being overpowered. Recall, though, he is someone who held his own as the other horn player in a quartet with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark.

Using his reed command to bring forth references to the work of bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, Stein and his compositions are firmly in the jazz tradition, unlike the kinetic collages which make up Conscious Mental Field Recordings. In fact, the trio frequently recaps the head after playing shout choruses. At the same time the CD’s compositions and performance are definitely post-modern, taking atonality and exploration as touchstones.

That means that timbral reed extension, rather than the often-chalumeau sound of the bass clarinet is on show here. Plus for every piece such as “Amy Music”, which sounds as if Stein is resuscitating a previously unknown Dolphy line, there are others rife with skittering and slipping tongue flutters, shrill tones sounding above the instrument’s highest pitches and stuttering basso lows.

Compositions such as “Stevenesque” for instance expose many variants. Beginning with a high-register evocation of Lacy’s soprano tone, Stein moves to hesitant and accented shakes and flutters – played a capella – subsequently alternating sluicing lyrical lines with reed bites. Behind him Roebke adds sul ponticello scrapes and Pride a shuffle beat. The drummer’s polyrhythmic pattern encompasses clips, clacks r ratamacues and rim shots elsewhere. Again, the session is traditional enough to make room for drum and bass solos.

Traditionalism of a less enlightened fashion appears to enthrall French clarinetist Olivier Thémines and his trio on Miniatures, which true to the title encompasses 20 tracks, the majority of which cleave to the three minute mark. Well-played trifles, the tracks are supposed to include linkages to Buster Keaton, Giuffre and composer Johnny Carisi.

Unfortunately, even with a track out-and-out labeled “Giuffrian Sketch”, the concepts of the American master of trio interaction don’t appear to be reflected in anything except brevity. Giuffre did improvise concisely – and for longer periods when he felt so inclined – and he did contrapuntally match his clarinet in a trio which alternately featured guitar or piano and bass. But Thémines’ associates on this essay on chamber jazz are pianist Guillaume Hazebrouck and vibraphonist Kit Le Marec. Rather than evoking the austere minimalism of the Guiffre3, this blending of piano and vibes calls forth memories of the often baroque Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) – which did record with Giuffre – or the contemporary lyrical tones of vibist Gary Burton and pianist Chick Corea. At its weakest some of the voicing and harmonies from clarinet, vibes and piano suggest the burnished timbres George Shearing groups of the 1950s which often abutted background music.

Hazebrouck’s harder touch and bluesy modulations on show in several spots appear to be buried under baroque-like formalism most of the time. Submerged too in the sometimes precious arrangements are Thémines’ occasional slinky chromaticism and the ringing waterfall of sounds Le Marec capably creates.

“Satellite” is typical of the program. A composition that could have been composed by the MJQ’s John Lewis, it’s an allegro shuffle that harmonizes clarinet and piano lines. Although the interaction is polyrhythmic, flat-lined sluggish is evident as well. Also along those lines is “Le basilic” where tender piano arpeggios ricochet off identically timed vibe plinks, until the romantic-styled narrative builds up to reed flutter-tonguing soaring over the other instruments’ double counterpoint.

Much more impressive are the low frequency trills the clarinetist produces on “Court et muet” which complement Hazebrouck’s stroking of his piano harp string following a theme elaboration. Also notable is “Rossinate” where the pianist’s high-frequency dynamics and double timing makes room for slinking trills from Thémines and feather-light pops from Le Marec.

While the teeny themes the French trio creates on Miniatures are a bit too diminutive to do more than pass by pleasantly, Thémines does expose one method of clarinet improvisation. Stein’s and Rühl’s trios on the other hand are part of fully realized sonic projects. Each also expresses exceptional command of his preferred member(s) of the woodwind family.

Stash Dauber review

Mo’ Clean Feed Records
The demand for free jazz and creative improvised music must be a whole lot greater in Europe than it is here in these United States, because the folks at Clean Feed Records in Lisbon continue to release interesting, challenging recordings at a rate that would probably break the bank at an American label. Once again, it’s a varied bunch:

Will Holshouser Trio + Bernanrdo Sassetti – Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns (CF 161)
New York-based accordionist Will Holshouser and his drummerless trio meet up with Portuguese pianist Bernardo Sassetti on Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns. Together, they produce a music of lush romanticism, highlighted by Ross Horton’s trumpet, which alternately waxes lyrical and sings sassy, and Dave Phillips’ lovely work on arco bass. This is chamber jazz at its best, alternately wistful and playful, cast from the same mold as Dave Douglas’ Charms of the Night Sky. The title refers to the music’s European setting (recorded in Portugal) and “the mysterious link between alcohol and spirituality,” which sounds good to me.

Michaël Attias Renku – In Coimbra (CF 162)
Well-traveled Israeli-born altoist Michael Attias has a pensive sound, influenced by Lee Konitz and Jimmy Lyons (both of whom have compositions covered on Renko in Coimbra), with an acrid tone and acerbic ideas. He’s ably supported here by bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi. The three can play with Art Ensemble of Chicago-like minimalism (“Do & the Birds”) or David S. Ware-ish intensity (“Fenix Culprit,” featuring a cameo by pianist Ross Lossing), sounding their best on “Universal Constant,” where their dialogue moves from abstraction (with Satoshi applying some extended techniques to his traps) to something approaching funk.

Empty Cage Quartet – Gravity (CF 161)
Empty Cage Quartet are so called because the members’ initials spell out MTKJ. “We are not conceptualists,” trumpeter Kris Tiner insists, in Gravity’s liner notes, which rival Cecil Taylor’s for density (if not obscurity). He and his mates Jason Mears (sax, clarinet), Ivan Johnson (bass) and Paul Kikuchi (drums) play through alternating sections from two pieces (“Gravity” and “Tzolkien”) that sound through-composed but are probably improvised, their horn polyphony and tightly-tuned drums evoking an agreeable collision of Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” with Out to Lunch, Point of Departure, or one of those.

Tony Malaby Apparitions – Voladores (CF 165)
Voladores is the latest outing for Tony Malaby’s Apparitions. On tenor, Malaby raises a plaintive cry like mid-‘60s Ornette on the previously unrecorded Coleman composition “Homogeneous Emotions,” and gets a burry, Sam Rivers-like sound on “Old Smoky,” where he’s as forceful as Rivers can be in a trio setting. On “Dreamy Drunk,” he comes across like Archie Shepp channeling Ben Webster and makes effective use of multiphonics. The basic horn-bass-drums trio is augmented by John Hollenbeck’s tuned percussion, which adds textural variety to the proceedings. On “Sour Diesel,” Hollenbeck injects melodica into the harmonic mixture (the way Jack Dejohnette used to on his ECM sides) while Malaby follows a circuitous melodic path on soprano. Might just be the pick of this litter.

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Less Than Between (CF 153)
To play the bass clarinet is to invite comparisons to Eric Dolphy, but Jason Stein — a native Lawn Guylander now based in Chicago — volunteered to be thrown into that briar patch after switching from guitar as a teenager. On Three Less Than Between, he’s creating a vocabulary for his instrument on the fly as he goes: growls, squeals, intervallic leaps, and staccato lines, aided by a rhythm section – bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Mike Pride – that’s equally inventive in supporting him. “Isn’t Your Paper Clip” explodes with energy, culminating in an old-fashioned clattering drum solo; the denouement is a relatively straightahead interlude with walking bass, followed by a restless bass solo with sympathetic drum accompaniment.

Nicolas Masson Parallels – Thirty Six Ghosts (CF 163)
Nicolas Masson Parallels’ Thirty Six Ghosts is proof that the land of William Tell has produced more than just watches and chocolate. The Shorteresque tenorman and his all-Swiss quartet (which features electric piano and stand-up bass) play a mostly introspective brand of jazz that’s informed by a love of 20th century composed music and, less audibly, alt-rock. Not surprisingly, the proximate model here is a less wired/weird version of early ‘70s Miles, particularly on the relentlessly funky “Hellboy.”

The Godforgottens – Never Forgotten, Always Remembered (CF 164)
The Godforgottens is the name adopted by Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo and the Sten Sandell trio. On Never Forgotten, Always Remembered, they perform three lengthy extemporations – the longest nearly 20 minutes – with titles that are variants of the album’s title. On “Always Forgotten,” they create brooding, oceanic swells with Sandell playing first-time Hammond B3 as well as piano. “Never Remembered” starts with a cascade of drum thunder from Paal Nilssen-Love, over which Broo and Sandell spar. “Remembered Forgotten” starts as a duel between Broo and Nilssen-Love before Sandell and bassist Johan Berthling enter the fray. Their interchanges can be either exhilarating or exhausting, depending on your point of view.