Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jason Stein, Unaccompanied Bass Clarinet

From the moment I heard Eric Dolphy take up the bass clarinet, I in turn was taken up with its dark sound, its nearly infinite possibilities for tone color. I just listened. Chicago-based Jason Stein did something about it when faced with similar circumstances. He took it up himself and made it his instrument of choice.

After playing with the likes of Michael Moore, Peter Brotzman, Jeb Bishop, Jeff Parker, Ken Vandermark and Frank Gratkowski, and after some time past as a leader of his own groups, Stein felt he was ready for an unaccompanied solo venture. In Exchange for a Process (Leo), available early next month, is the completion of that project, and in some ways the fulfillment of Stein's first phase as an artist.

Now perhaps not everybody will welcome this unaccompanied venture into the sonic complexities of the lower registered member of the clarinet family. The cognoscenti of such sorts of music should and surely will. Because Mr. Stein shows himself to be on an intrepid adventure of discovery. He uncovers the wide ranging tone possibilities of his chosen instrument, and he does so with imagination and disciplined control over the production of those tones.

You get the feeling sometimes when listening to similar sorts of creative projects (in lesser hands) that the artist is taking advantage of accidents of sound brought about by half-fingerings, embouchure pressure variations and other factors. With Jason Stein, your ears tell you that there's little truly accidental about what he plays, that he has conducted his technical experiments off mike and proceeds in the recording to weave tapestries of richly colored sound that are intentional, leaving little to chance. The journey of discovery for Stein is the formation of lucid musical speech out of the personal vocabulary of note and tone he has forged through long interaction with his instrument.

It is surely one of the best solo bass clarinet performances I've heard. It deserves to be a part of the small but seminal body of important works in this vein, beginning with recordings Eric Dolphy produced unaccompanied and with bassist Richard Davis towards the end of his life.

Jason has a new trio recording coming out as well. Stay tuned on Friday for a look at that one.

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