Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – A Calculus of Loss (CF 104)
There aren’t too many bass clarinetists in jazz who concentrate solely on this instrument – it’s usually part of an arsenal of axes whose language may or may not immediately translate to one another. Adding his name to a very short list of such technicians (Denis Colin, Michel Pilz) is Jason Stein, a Chicagoan by way of New York and Montana who recently came to notoriety through his work in Bridge 61 with Ken Vandermark, drummer Tim Daisy and bassist Nate McBride. On his debut outing leading an ensemble, he’s joined by cellist/sound artist Kevin Davis (who’s worked with avant-garde banjoist Uncle Woody Sullender) and drummer Mike Pride on six varied originals.
Though like many stylists who’ve approached the bass clarinet, Eric Dolphy was a formative influence (it inspired Stein to drop the guitar), what immediately attracted this writer to his work in Bridge 61 was that he really didn’t just string together Dolphy-isms. Rather, Stein is clearly occupying his own sound-world, more approximating a field of isolated blips and worried phrases than a linear thematic extrapolation. His improvisations are clearly less about the power of statements than a personal sonic investigation.
The gritty vamp of “Miss Izzy” might seem like a good place to stretch one’s R&B chops a la Julius Hemphill. However, Stein’s inner dialogue ranges from buzzing, raspy held tones to soft harmonics and burbling squawks out of the most abstract bags of Lacy or Giuffre, before harping on bent, metallic scrapes. The logic of such a construction is clearly an inner one, certainly not beholden to a tune or an obvious exploration of a single idea – Stein is investigating what the instrument can do and the possible areas he can inhabit. That’s not to say Stein shies completely away from themes or phrases – “That’s Not a Closet” is a fast waltz with a short, repetitive figure at its outset. Stein’s woody work is at its most Dolphy-like here, but there is softness to his phrasing, a delicate picking apart of his materials that seems almost “West Coast” in its pensive, concentrated facility.
Davis and Pride are certainly more than able companions, able to outline a rhythm section as well as provide grounding and engagement for the breathiness of a sound-and-space poem like the Town & Country-esque “Caroline and Sam,” on which Pride’s vibes are featured. On the basis of A Calculus of Loss and his work in Bridge 61, Jason Stein is clearly an improviser and composer to watch.