This Week’s Playlist
John Stein – Lifeline – For many years, the remarkable guitarist John Stein has enjoyed high prestige and respect among colleagues and jazz lovers. According to his creative interests, Stein is revered as the direct heir of Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell and Grant Green. For many years, Stein has been closely associated with the renowned New Bedford, Massachusetts-based independent label Whaling City Sound, where his work is published. Due to this fact, almost all of them have been reviewed on our website. Recently, John suffered a serious illness and only now gradually began to recover, returned home from the hospital, but still cannot play his favorite instrument, which he has not parted with since the age of seven. This prompted John, along with the Whaling City Sound team, to create a kind of anthology of his work over the past twenty years. This idea took shape in the form of a large album of two discs (only two and a half hours of sound), for which Stein selected his most significant recordings of different years. The album is called Lifeline and will be released on Whaling City Sound on June 17th.If you have never heard the music of John Stein before, then Lifeline will give you the opportunity to get to know this guitarist and composer, to appreciate his skill in playing in a variety of formats – after all, the recordings for the album are taken from different albums, where John played with different partners: from Green Street (1999) to Serendipity (2021). There were a lot of them, and among them there are many high-class jazzmen, which gives the album additional interest. So, the first disc opens with the piece Up and at ‘em, where Stein’s main partner in the quartet is the famous saxophonist David Fathead Newman. And already in the second track of Brazilian Hug, it will become clear to you how much Stein loves Brazilian music. This love was born when John was in the 7th grade, and the family first purchased a stereo player, and one of the first discs in the home collection was the album by Stan Getz and João Gilberto. Since then, both swing and bossa nova have become Stein’s guiding stars in music.There will be many more “Brazilian” pieces in the album, as well as first-class Brazilian musicians, such as percussionist Ze Eduardo Nazario or flutist Fernando Brandao. I will also pay attention to the piece Moonlight in Vermont, where Larry Gouldings’ piano dialogues with Stein’s guitar, as well as the classical standard On Green Dolphin Street, an example of Stein’s deep understanding of the jazz tradition. But Stein is no stranger to music of a completely different kind – listen, for example, to Stanley Turentine’s almost funky version of Sugar or the author’s lyric composition Ira’s Tango, which John dedicated to his father. Literally every one of the twenty-six tracks on the album deserves a mention, but instead of listing them all, I’ll end this text with an aphoristic comment from Whaling City Sound President Neal Weiss: “CDs often take on a life of their own. This album gives a real sense of the vast amount of quality music John has created and released over the last twenty plus years. It’s a great overview of his journey in music and also a top notch collection, so fire up the player, sit back and listen.”
“COOL WATER” by GREG MURPHY (Whaling City Sound)
Pianist Murphy is based in New York City and this album was inspired by a 2019 trip to Nairobi, where – and this is a great detail – he was going to play hockey with the Kenyan Ice Lions. The format is built around Murphy’s core trio, with Eric Wheeler on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, with seven guests appearing here and there. Murphy wrote seven of the dozen tunes, but he’s not bound by genre, as you learn quickly after a John Coltrane-influenced take on “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” opens the album, and is soon followed by a breezy run through Steely Dan’s “Green Earrings” with guest singer Ku-umba Frank Lacy. But Murphy’s originals really stand out, from the soaring melody of “My Life” to the smooth drive of “Friendship,” where Bill Ware’s vibes and David Kikoski’s synth lines enhance the sound. The title cut is “Enkare Nairobi,” which translates roughly as “cool water,” and derives from a Maasai greeting that was sung to Murphy on his arrival, making a buoyant, triumphant march highlighted by T.K. Blue’s flute accents. Just when you might think the sweet, slow cover of “Body and Soul” is a predictable vehicle, Murphy follows it up with a rousing jaunt through the Isley Brothers’ hit “Coolin’ Me Out.” Murphy played a lot with Coltrane sideman Rashied Ali, so his own “Cuttin’ Trane’s Corners” is surely well informed, although it may be more a tribute to Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner with its vivid, percussive melodicism, but that’s high praise indeed.
“SERENDIPITY” by JOHN STEIN (Whaling City Music)
Guitarist Stein retired from teaching at Berklee College of Music with the intention of focusing more on his performing career, starting with last year’s fine “Watershed” album. The pandemic cut his touring plans to promote that album but led to this excellent effort. Signed to play at the annual AHA New Bedford Fest in late summer 2020, the lockdown canceled that festival, but Stein and his trio played a live show for online listeners at the empty New Bedford Art Museum and this album is a recording made then. Stein plays with a superbly fat tone and wonderful articulation and his rhythm section of bassist Ed Lucie and drummer Mike Connors is outstanding. “Alfie’s Theme,” by Sonny Rollins, becomes a finger-popping canter, while the trio maintains the quirky fun behind Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” Stein’s own “Elvin” is the kind of buoyant strut the late Elvin Jones would love and Jobim’s ballad “How Insensitive” has never been done better.
“HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT” by DINO GOVONI (Whaling City Sound)
Longtime Berklee College of Music faculty member Govoni performs here with quintet and quartet arrangements surrounding his nonpareil sax. The quintet includes pianist Henry Hey, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, bassist Michael Pope and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, and it is a magnificent ensemble. “Thinkers Anonymous” is a treat, a sort of samba in 7/4 time, while the sax-trumpet interplay on the bop sprint “Cobalt” is invigorating. But Govoni and his band also excel at slower stuff, like the sublime melody of the smoky ballad “Ask Again” or the easy rolling momentum of “Edge Walker.” This is Govoni’s first album in almost a decade, although he has played on many other musicians works, and this is proof he should record more often.