It is all you can ask for from a jazz recording — the trifecta, the vaunted triple threat. John Stein’s new disc, Color Tones, features excellent compositions, beautiful arrangements, and formidable playing.
It helps when you can fit the pieces into place like Stein can. The tasteful guitarist has assembled a sublime band, expanding his regular rhythm section — drummer Zé Eduardo Nazario and bassist John Lockwood — with the addition of two unique and mature soloists, Fernando Brandão on flutes and Phil Grenadier on trumpets and mutes.
The band is critical to Stein’s success. Together, the quintet has created Color Tones, a marvelous melange of classy jazz, funky grooves, and terrific ensemble playing. All four of Stein’s accompanists carve out unique territory, individually and collectively. Stein is a generous leader. Every musician is featured extensively, and they complement each other beautifully, adding their individual voices to the group effort.
Songs like the exciting “Neck Road” provide an example of how this collective functions, featuring all five instrumentalists weaving through spontaneous interplay: the musical conversation is respectful, energetic, and bristling. Though the acoustic format feels traditional on the surface, there are surprises hiding underneath. This is music of depth and subtlety.
John Stein is one of the finest jazz guitarists you'll ever hear, with beautiful touch, tone, swing, detail, and emotion. Working with a warm, singing classic jazz-guitar sound, he renders maximum swing and expression. There's a wealth of detail that he gets at even the fastest tempos.
Special mention goes to John for his compositions on this recording. The tunes are challenging yet melodic, adventuresome yet familiar. John has provided his co-artists with sparingly ornamented, although not blank canvases. The musicians, utilizing the palette John has supplied, complete the sonic landscapes, adding depth, perspective, and character. With the composer leading the way with nimble, subtle guitar figures, the result is communal art in which all participants have room to express themselves through thoughtful improvisation.
Eight of the eleven tunes here are arranged by the group; each one features the rhythm section laying down a deep groove, with the other musicians layering colored lines over it in a communal way. In addition to the ideas contributed by the composer and the players, three of the songs are arranged by Adi Yeshaya, which adds immeasurably to the sonic variety of Color Tones.
The resulting work is bold and beautiful, vigorous brush strokes on a sturdy canvas. Which is to say, art. One way, and a fitting one, to describe Stein’s Color Tones is that it’s literally a work of art, a mosaic of playing, composing and arranging that amounts to strata of bold colors, masterful restraint, and just the right amount of flourish.
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