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Conversation Pieces

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Album Review

For his fourth album, guitarist John Stein has called back David "Fathead" Newman to join him and his trio. Newman played a prominent role in Stein's 1999 release, Green Street. Although he is not on all the cuts, Newman infuses the proceedings with a touch of soul and swing, making for an exhilarating, highly listenable 52 minutes of solid jazz. All compositions in the set are by Stein, and reflect his continued development as a topflight jazz composer. His composing fosters improvisational work, not only by himself but also by Newman, whose bluesy tenor contrasts well with Stein's clean, smooth single-note guitar approach. The kickoff tune, "Up and At 'Em," is a preview of the give and take between the two main protagonists as they take turns expressing their ideas about the piece. There's a nice, easy feel here, a sensation that pervades the set for the most part. "Sao Paulo," with just Stein in front, is a light samba that sets aside room for Keala Kaumeheiwa's melodic bass picking and Greg Conroy's drums, which offer some creative tension as they play around the guitar's single notes. Never running out of melodic ideas with either his composing or guitar, Stein and his trio have fun with "Lucy Lou," a loose, lilting, slightly swinging piece. A touch of blues, with a bop flavor, comes along with "BB Blues," where Stein's probing guitar takes a chorus or two after Kaumeheiwa's bass has taken the solo honors. The album's coda is a groovy "The Willie Walk," with shoulder-shaking exchanges between Stein and Kaumeheiwa. Stein is a master at his craft, as his elegant phrasing of musical ideas comes clearly through his single-stringed supple guitar. Recommended for guitar and overall jazz fans.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s

John Stein began his guitar education at the age of seven, showing an early interest in folk and classical music. Stein's eventual absorption with jazz was an evolutionary process rather than the product of a defining moment or two. It wasn't until his teens that he started noticing jazz. The genre completely enveloped him at the age of 30, when he became a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston where he later became a member of the faculty. He sees the music as a constant challenge to further...
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Conversation Pieces, John Stein
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