John Stowell | Michael Zilber

Live Beauty



iTunes - $9.99

MUSIC REVIEW BY Chris Lunn, Ancient Victorys


Stowell's inventive, warm approach to the guitar with a delicate touch meets Zilber, whit his big saxophone sound and edgy intensity. They have found a musical vocabulary across the past decade in duo, trio and quartet formats. This is their second quartet undertaking and was recorded live at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, California. They are joined by the large warm sometimes rumbling bass work of John Shifflett and the incredibly creative percussion of Jason Lewis, who often leads this pack. All create the musical lines, all lead, all play a rhythmic part and are able to weave a tapestry of very creative music. They are tight and understand each other musically and how to play or not play the open spaces. Your listening journey here takes paths not often traveled.

Jason Lewis, the drummer, penned "In the Park," a nice long walk with a darting warmth. Percussion and guitar pulse the beat, then the saxophone comes in warm and lovingly. The guitar solo is full of Stowell's known warmth. Stowell works with the warm tone of the bass. All four voices here move effortlessly and can move as a unit, interchanging, going freelance, or creating voicings, and they do. Stowell bites his notes and chords a bit more, has less space, giving just a slightly harder sound to his elegant work. Love the drums always there and the bass moving a light rumble motif. The guitar gives touches and the sax returns with a biting, more aggressive approach, but still warm and sailing, lots of full horn warmth here. This gets into a samba-like mood as the quick multi-notes stream off and build intensity. Zilber's horn brings the rest along, and then they release into a quiet zone; listen to the crisp stick of Lewis.

"Shot Through with Beauty" is a Zilber tune and the title of this groups previous CD release. There are lots of searching sounds by Stowell's probing guitar, some touches of percussion, and then the sax of Zilber comes in warmly. We get extended sounds and a slow build with the wandering rhythm trio gaining in their intensity. They drop back to a quietly breathing sound, lush and intense at the same time. The bass moves effectively into grooves, talks to the percussion while there are just small quiet bits of guitar. Lovely work. The bass solo is superb with full, lyrical sounds, and there are light guitar touches in a kind of conversation. Stowell grooves a kind of loneliness. Listen closely to the harmonic interplay with guitar and bass. Some of this work reminds me of the mid 50's Chico Hamilton Quartet. "Lush" describes a lot of this work. Zilber's sax returns, and they develop a warm, almost swaying sound with a sax reference to "Bye Bye Blackbird." Exquisite tune development.

"Quantum Theory" by John Shifflett, the bass player, could be a theme song for the "Big Bang Theory" with all the variety of special sound effects. The sax is out there talking in quick noted bursts and reaches to the drums in frantic talk. We get bursts of notes, stretching, and talking trash. The guitar moves in underneath to talk with the bass and drums. Zilber returns and all four are talking in an outside togetherness. The guitar has the bass dancing below with quick light clusters of notes. Rapid ideas, and right on execution by Stowell. Great to hear Stowell take off in this aggressive, imaginative, and solid style. The bass and drums are perfect support. The sax is back in, and they begin some outer-space-type sound, and Lewis' drumming is very inventive here. In a tribute to the guitarist Zilber penned "Stowell What." Stowell opens in quick notes fashion and then Zilber's sax comes in with a bit less raw lines, kind of a reverse of what you would expect from each. They talk, and then the guitar shimmers to the percussion work of Lewis. These different voices are both tricky and delightful; they are always pushing each other's envelopes. The percussion set swings, and the sax is back weaving and stretching. Guitar is boxed-in, supporting behind. The sax ends up exploding into extended lines with strong percussion, while the guitar continues warm and quiet. Zilber's "Cookie Monster Blues" has the sax running quietly over the bass and percussion, and again the touches of guitar. They maintain this thematic mood with warm guitar extensions. There are quick notes, some very exploratory and dancing warmth. They are always interesting, not predictable, and they give each other lots of space to solo. They release back to the sax with the bass and guitar emphasizing the lines. The full thrust sax gets a bit quieter; the Cooke Monster must be going to sleep.

Just Stowell and Zilber explore the standard "My Funny Valentine." There is lots of fire, angular movement, changing moods, and the voicings are strange and call out in unusual form. They are totally ni another space than this classic's original lines. The exchanges and control will take you in. About a third of the way through the six minutes comes the first "My Funny Valentine" referencing. They take off from tha tpoint, going above and below the basic lines, octaves at a time. They poke at the edges, change the timing, cross talk. Just a great mind bending duet bringing new meaning to this classic. This is not Chet Baker singing folks! Scofield's "Wabash 111" has some very familiar lines that this group brings into play. The opens with Lewis' drum attacking. The sax comes in vibrant and full while the guitar and bass are underneath feeding the line development. The song builds and moves into a rhythm and blues rumble. The sax and guitar take the lead voices. The bass gets this superb rumble going and the guitar is in a bluesy voicing. The sax is solid blues talking and we are headed for Texas in the big full, groveling down home sound. They even get into a modern version of blues sax honking that is a great delight. This is a cooker to close out the edge-pushing exploration by this superb quartet. From top to bottom a creative, well-produced and conceived gem.





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