From on high, the guitarist presents a kaleidoscopic view of musical sounds
You begin to get some sense of what you’re in for on John Stein’s vibrant new CD without even putting it into the player. Take a peek first at the back cover. There is the guitarist, in a partially illustrated photograph, an intent look on his face, only this time a graphic treatment shades his guitar and fret hand with bright stripes of color. I’d say this was a symbol and a pretty obvious one at that.
In musical terms, Stein has taken what has already been considered a wide spectrum of sound, and brightened it. His palette now includes the prismatic hues of jazz itself.
So, why all the new colors? Well, for one, Stein is truly coming into his own as a player. He and his band, including bassist John Lockwood and drummer Zé Eduardo Nazario are, after a handful of recordings together, fully in step. And now, the band has welcomed young keyboard player Jake Sherman, an inventive and creative spirit, fresh from Berklee, who adds his own keystrokes to these arrangements. Sherman’s presence infuses the band’s arrangements with energy and dimension.
Another reason the recording feels more colorful is that Stein, as a player, has pushed himself out of his comfort zone. As his colleagues nudge him forward, fleshing out these arrangements into something unexpectedly lovely, Stein propels himself to lead the way, to stay in front. His innovative soloing and tasteful, rhythmic chords hold up well against the band’s immense efforts. It is the sign of a leader who is up to the task of fronting an accomplished band. “The main thing,” says Stein in the liner notes to the album, “is the collaborative spirit in this record … The guys contributed a lot of musical ideas … Their instrumental virtuosity was challenging and I really stretched to keep up.”
“Hi Fly,” Stein’s third recording with Lockwood and Nazario, is a true achievement, with many bright moments. “Sea Smoke” showcases Nazario’s swing, “Plum Stone” is tailor-made for Sherman’s Hammond organ, and Lockwood steps up and out on “Love Letters” and on “Threesome.” Throughout the recording, beautifully captured by engineer Peter Kontrimas, the musicians seize on great opportunities to soar, and in doing so, display an intense, kaleidoscopic view of a talented and exciting band.
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