One of the most difficult things to accomplish in music is making the complicated sound natural and easy. Saxophonist Loren Stillman continues to challenge himself in the arena of composition by writing pieces of music that sound freely played but adhere to an architecture, requiring the players to move forward within the piece as they deal with the fabric of the composition.
In pursuing these sounds, Stillman has enlisted a trio of trusted colleagues in bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber to record Time and Again, an album of new pieces that move organically though they utilize written forms. This trio setting lent to a new sound that Stillman has been developing on the tenor saxophone, which he focuses on for the entirety of the recording.
Over the past two decades, Stillman has become one of jazz music’s leading alto saxophonists. But he has long felt that he was a tenor saxophonist playing the alto. So, when the pandemic reared its head, Stillman used the time to woodshed the larger horn, trying to extend his sound fluidity through his alto, soprano, and tenor without leaning into the sound cliches of any of the three.
The time also allowed Stillman to develop new repertoire that he heard in his head led by tenor voice. He began to write pieces for a trio of tenor, bass, and drums, as it was a conscious choice to eschew a chordal instrument so that Stillman had more freedom and room to fill the harmonic space.
For the recording, the saxophonist chose longtime friends and collaborators Gress and Ferber, with whom he had originally met in the Ralph Alessi Quartet and played with in countless musical situations. Stillman knew that the triumvirate would come together as a team providing a comfort zone for his ambitious music.
The music in question is in part inspired by the expressive yet studied music of his heroes, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Paul Motian. Their attention to the details of the musical form while freely expressing themselves sets their work apart from other “free” players. Stillman wanted to maintain that spirit by finding a way to play in a free manner while retaining the anchor of the songs, which proves to be one of the most difficult ways to improvise in jazz.
The trio met to play a handful of gigs before recording at David Stoller’s The Samurai Hotel Studio in Queens, New York in July 2022. The tracks were then expertly mixed and mastered by Joseph Branciforte at his Greyfade Studio.
The recording begins with “Backyard,” an open piece built on a pedal point that allows the harmony to jump wherever Stillman feels, all while creating a unique, insistent sound and zone. The rhapsodic “Unsung” is a bittersweet yet heraldic ode to Stillman’s musical heroes and their infrequently heard music. The title of the meditative “Time and Again” stems from a phrase Stillman repeats over-and-over again to his children as a reprimand. The piece itself progresses in part only to find itself at the beginning, over-and-over again. Partly inspired by the harmonic sensibilities of piano legend Bill Evans, “Fearless Dreamer” is a buoyant piece built on a surprising tone row of minor chords.
Gress’s resonant bass introduces “Foist,” a darkly tinged mid-tempo piece that quietly simmers. Inspired by momentum and nomenclature of a collaborative group Stillman was a member of with Gary Versace, Nate Radley, and Ted Poor, “Lift Off” uses that band’s lingo to describe taking the music into another dimension, which this tune does under the propulsion of Mark Ferber’s drums. “Kiss The Ring” is a slippery tune that seems to weave tenor, bass, and drums through breathtaking musical terrain. The recording concludes with the airy, blues-infused ballad “Mask,” which Stillman wrote while wearing the pandemic’s haute couture.
Throughout his career, Loren Stillman has been able to impress with fantastic saxophone playing and intriguing composing. Though he changes dimensions with a new horn and a new trio after nearly a decade without a new album, Stillman’s skills remain undeniable on his new recording, Time and Again.
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The perfect puzzle. The leaders are free to concentrate on their individual statements as well as on perfectly complementing each other. The rhythm group carries them to where they want to move in jazz heaven with verve and spirit. And yes, I enjoy following them. freejazzy
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This quintet has acquired legendary status as a working unit...all the musicians are exemplary at their craft and DD is one of my 'Big5'...he is an exquisite composer of both depth and breadth of vision...you can instantly recognise Dave's DNA in a tune...what's more, you feel there is also so much more to come!;his powers of expression are so special.
These compositions are from the heart and I can only suggest that you take them to yours...