Stowell and Scenes have five other releases on Origin, and they just get tighter as they work off the deep understanding of each other's creative process. Jeff Johnson is one of the most sensitive bassists around with an incredible understanding of lyricism and moving inside the psyche. Bishop, in addition to being one of the head honchos for Origin, appears on dozens of recordings and is an immaculate, sensitive percussionist who can read and enhance the melodic offerings of his friends. Stowell offers up five originals here, Johnson two, and there are three covers. You will return to savor the guitar, bass, and drum trio here.
Stowell's "The Mandy Walk" opens with his guitar walking, pulsing out with touches of percussion and bass moving the first remarks. Then it becomes more melody ballad, and Johnson is equal in the melodic treatment. Bishop touches, spots, intensifies certain edges. Hear the singing of Johnson's bass solo, totally a vocalist/songwriter mentality. Lovely and super building.
Johnson authored "Long Prairie" with bass loping in a both modern seventies jazz riff and also a bit cow boy like. The lead is all John Bishop's clean chops. Stowell comes in dancing, lyrical, and fun. Beautiful little note shots, easy to follow and get inside. Good straight-ahead jazz that keeps developing with a lyrical and lightly rollicking extended bass solo taking it out. Joyful.
They cover Miles Davis' "Solar." Stowell presents some warm angular pushes then takes chords to bring it back home. Rapid bass and guitar interchanges and echoing along with accents of percussion bring new light to this song. Other players can learn from this tight, intricate, time-changing interpretation of Davis. Playing fast can be clean, clear soulful, and meaningful in the hands of this threesome. Bishop takes quick solos and moves the time and momentum with clarity.
"Fur Heide" is a ballad by Stowell as he weaves warmly with some guitar complexity. He surprises listeners without alienating the direction of the work. Johnson talks, and Bishop hangs back letting the song unveil its unusual movement...less is more percussion. Johnson almost walks in places then dials up the marriage with Stowell's interesting lines. Then his bass solo is a melodic, clear, and firm solo that had me singing. Stowell re-enters in a light lovely swirl to take it out.
"Pretty Boy Floyd" by Stowell starts out with arm, precise lead guitar with lovely vocal sound, clear and clean. Then the bass and pulsing percussion begin to establish a time signature that barely develops. What is developing is the tight melodic Stowell ballad which is handed off to Johnson, who is gorgeous, bold and firm. They are always a trio; it's never about the solo but about the melody and developing the sound.
Johnson penned "T.I.O." a bit more outside sound with bass bowing, Stowell's angular chording, plus percussion which takes rumbling and clean shots to accent. At times, the bowed bass takes the lead, then Stowell does. Plucked bass and angular guitar chords begin exchanging in almost a ballad vocal-like sound before more exploring. Bishop is acting like a bass in the pulse while accenting. They really work at getting inside this with complexity and pure musical exploration.
"Psalm" by Tommy O'Donnell, the longest piece on this collection, opens with the bass making a melodic lead in with Stowell moving in lightly underneath. Bishop cleanly touches. Stowell opens up the sound, and the bass underneath is more complex and then moves forward to a gorgeous full, melodic, well-spaced solo. Johnson is all over this, extending the sound, creating the melody and countering in a very percussive expressive manner. Stowell enters with a gorgeous statement of the melody with his little odd chord changes and light angular touches that make a melody even stronger.
The standard "You and the Night and the Music" has the melody offered in spurts, partially by the guitar and some by the bass, and after a run through, the vocal-laden melodic bass. Then they take turns soloing and swinging the melody with Bishop touching, slightly pushing, accenting so cleanly. Stowell swings tight to the melody, and bass releases to Bishop's clean, never overstated solo that flutters, slaps, lightly rumbles with melody chords and bass accents weaving around. Very well done work by Bishop. Then back to the head as they close softly.
Stowell has two songs closing out, "Simple Pleasures" with chording and bowed bass inviting kind of reminds me of good interpretations of "Autumn Leaves." Some big chords and light extension by Stowell with almost no backing at times. They really work at the space and openness on this tune, almost conversational in places.
Closing is "Tapioca Time" with Stowell walking a chord sequence and bass and percussion striding lightly along. Again, Johnson's warm full voice guides us into a language, a vocal statement. Stowell just touches. Bishop takes small pushes as the solo develops and releases to a warm and loving solo by Stowell, just beauty with light complexity taking us out. This is a superb, tightly woven collection, melodic, that sings on every level.
Not much more you could ask of this trio in delivering quality, creative, and accessible jazz. Time to take this trio and add Kendra Shank on vocals and do an entire album of Jeff Johnson's originals. He is that good a vocal and melodic writer.
Packaging is well done with a six-panel fold over with a jewel box in the middle. Cover art on all or part of five of the panels works with its subtle scene that can be printed on clearly. Photos of all three are superb. Contact info, tunes are on cover and CD, but times only on cover. Binding is bold, clear, and legible for easy shelf retrieval. One of Bishop's jobs is designing and creating the packing and art. And he does a superb job.