Now here's a uniquely compelling set from two of the Pacific Northwest's great individualists on one of jazz's most stalwart imprints. Guitarist John Stowell and multi-hyphenate Dan Dean have each made their respective marks on many Origin dates in the past. The former's instruments have figured into more than 25 recordings there, from solo sets to duo meetings with Dave Liebman and sideman appearances to a string of albums with collective combo Scenes; and the latter has spanned worlds and roles with the same label, writing and playing bass on his own terms, backing others with his foundational fingers, mastering and/or producing recording dates and layering his voice in fascinating fashion(s) on the polished and pure Songs Without Words (Origin Classical, 2017). If you've stayed even somewhat abreast of the Origin roster and what's happening in that part of the country, it's likely that, knowingly or not, you've encountered their respective work.
The fact that Stowell and Dean never recorded together prior to this point comes as a surprise. But that doesn't mean they haven't crossed paths before. Dean mastered several projects from Scenes as well as some of Stowell's music. And once a line of communication was truly opened between these two, the idea for this project was hatched. Stowell, taken by Dean's distinctive singing and concept for Songs Without Words, was curious what it might sound like to stack that vocal perspective atop his own compositions. And Dean, a fan of Stowell's sophisticated harmonic language, playing and writing, was more than up for the collaboration. The back-and-forth of recording, layering and tweaking took more than a year, but it was clearly time well spent. That's audibly obvious within the opening minutes on this collection's "Welcome to Nice" starter. This pair swirls, slides in unexpected directions and swings. Guitars, bass, vocals and drum programming coalesce into one gorgeous entity, completely indefinable yet mildly familiar. It's music that plays like a welcome thought hidden just beyond memory's grasp.
In hearing the album all the way through it's hard to know what's most impressive—Dean's wordless vocal precision and bass work (plus enhancements at other ends), Stowell's linguistic flexibility with guitar(s) and skills with the pen, or the harmonious stance and sonic viewpoints binding these two men. Whether we're talking about a laidback stroll like "Nanti Glo," the mellow straight-time title track, a spiced setting such as "Alora Andiamo!" or a starlit canvas like "Springfield Sonata," it's clear that this is the work of the artistically aligned. An incomparable duo with an envious command of color and language, Stowell and Dean create engrossing music on Rain Painting.