By Mark Corroto
What is apparent straight away with Knots by the Tim Stine Quartet is the intense physicality of the performance. I’ll posit Stine, a North Dakota native who grew up with classical music, was drawn to the creative music scene of Chicago because of its tradition of a robust and muscular sound. From Gene Ammons to Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, John Gilmore, and Harrison Bankhead, the Chicago sound attracts a certain type of adventurous player. Those driving the scene today make up Stine’s quartet; saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Quin Kirchner, all leaders in their own right.
Opening with elbows poking outward, “SH8” lurches and lumbers at first in lockstep, with players muscling the notes. Then Stine solos with his insistent (let’s say audacious) attack. Even though Stine exclusively plays acoustic guitar throughout, he can match up to the huge sound generated by Mazzarella and Ulery and Kirchner. While he plays electric in Mazzarella’s quintet, he sticks to acoustic here, as he does in his trio with Anton Hatwich and Frank Rosaly.
His compositions mirror the same philosophy and his pieces tread the same ground as that of Steve Lehman. Both the title track and “Fred Waltzing” have a stammering pulse with Mazzarella’s alto broadcasting an Ornette Coleman-meets-Jackie McLean vibe. For his part, Stine’s guitar can cast a bebop mood or sound not unlike an oud. The music the quartet performs trades off solos without deference to a single leader. It is a joy to hear Ulery’s bass freed on a composition like “Trempealeau,” where he tangles with Kirchner’s drumming. “Ride Wild Rides” is woven of independent voices, beautifully interlaced to construct a launch pad for Stine and Mazzarella’s gentle voices. Stine is a new voice in the chorus of Chicago’s creative establishment.