Born in London, England, but raised in Croton-on-Hudson New York, alto saxophonist Loren Stillman’s teachers include Dave Liebman, Ted Nash, and Dick Oatts. He has received scholarships to study at both The Manhattan School of Music and New York University and was a semi-finalist for the Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition in 2005. He has worked with the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra, The Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and John Abercrombie, among others. Blind Date is his eighth CD as a leader.
Using a light and feathery touch, Stillman turns his newest CD into a swirl of colors that wash over each other in various shades of hue. The way he mixes his distinctive sound with his unique compositional feel results in a collection of original jazz that is neither in the traditional straight-ahead mold nor completely out of it, either.
For example, "What Will Other People Think" has an angular melody that cries out for a solo section in the free-jazz mold. Instead, what we get is a mix of free jazz elements sprinkled with tradition. Stillman’s solo stutters and quick steps in perfect lockstep with the accompanied duet by pianist Gary Versace. Together they use the best of free-jazz shared-association form and combine it with a harmonic underpinning that is used as a guide, not a rule. The result is an elegant artistic statement by two musicians who have obvious love for each other’s playing.
Bassist Drew Gress shows deft and intelligent musicianship during his introduction to "Shape Shifter." His technique is not on display for its effect, but for the melodic craftsmanship having such abilities allow him. His tone radiates full-bodied warmth while his lines sweetly tell their own story. Stillman’s following melodic statement is open enough for Gress to make poignant contrapuntal statements of his own. Drummer Joey Baron, certainly a monster in his own right, shows why he’s in constant demand with his impressionistic cymbal accompaniment. He doesn’t just add color, but instead infuses his work with a melodic portent all its own.
There is little fault to find in this disc. A quartet of musicians making highly-skilled fully-integrated-on-every-level music is rare and worth checking out; that they make it so successfully in-the-cracks between free and traditional styles is even more reason to celebrate.