That relationship has fermented a unusual sound — a broad palette of tone colors, open harmonies like cloud banks on the Western plains — and Schneider’s unusual melodies, with their pop-tune directness. Sky Blue shows off her ability to fashion long arcs of music in mini-concertos for her soloists. Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen solos almost continuously on “The ‘Pretty’ Road,” as does Perry on “Rich’s Piece.” And it’s difficult to tell where the writing leaves off and the improvisation begins. Schneider suggests the example of Gil Evans’s writing for Miles Davis. “Sometimes Gil composed the very beginning of the solo and the very end of the solo — it’s taking a little bit of the control of the direction of the piece, so there’s a seamlessness as opposed to ‘Just blow.’ Which most jazz is: the tune’s over and they start blowing, and it’s very clear when that happens. But what attracted me to writing for jazz musicians in the first place was this idea of intimacy — that the music belongs to both of us, that the improvisation is woven into the written music and I’m not just creating some background for everyone to blow on. I enhance what they do and they enhance and give freedom and breath to the things that I do.”
Guitarist John Stein says he’s reissuing his second album, 1999’s Green Street, for a very simple reason: “I ran out of copies. People were asking me for copies and I didn’t have any to sell.” Rights to the album had reverted to Stein from the original label, so he cut a deal with his current label, North Dartmouth’s Whaling City Sound, and went back to the mixing board with original engineer Peter Kontrimas.
All the better for us. Stein is an understated mainstream jazz musician with the touch and the imagination to make everything he plays sound as fresh and “new” as tomorrow’s avant-garde. Green Street is, in a sense, a genre exercise — classic organ jazz. Stein went back to re-examine the discography — Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Larry Young. “It is a genre exercise,” he tells me over lunch at Audubon Circle, in the Fenway, “but at the time, I was living it wholly. It wasn’t an academic exercise to me — I was devoting myself artistically to mastering the style.”
After trying out various organ players, he settled on Ken Clark. The Hammond B-3 organ is loud, and Stein was looking for someone who was forceful but also knew how to rein it in. The band — with Dave Hurst on drums — worked together for several years before bringing the tunes into the studio. Not every playing situation was conducive to what Stein was trying to achieve. “It would depend on what was on the jukebox at the time, because if there was heavy-backbeat music, it was really hard for Ken to go back from that. I always kind of knew when we’d hear that kind of music on the jukebox while we were setting up — I’d think, ‘This isn’t going to be a very fun gig for me.’ ” Stein laughs. “I didn’t blame Ken. It is hard to go back from that. But most of the time he did his very best to accommodate my conception, which was more . . . subtle.”
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