With a footing in jazz pedagogy and the professional performing arena, bassist Steve LaSpina is just one of many yeoman musicians who goes about his daily music making without gaining much in the way of public awareness. He has been a mainstay on the New York scene however for a number of years, not to mention his name cropping up on more than his share of releases from the Danish SteepleChase label.
With a healthy intent to vary each of his recorded projects, LaSpina has brought together a wonderfully adaptable new line-up for DISTANT DREAM, his sixth SteepleChase date as a leader and most recent to see release in the United States. While saxophonist Billy Drewes and drummer Jeff Hirshfield have worked with LaSpina prior, the ringers here are pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Ben Monder. Both create an impression that goes beyond their established personas, Hersch much more dramatic than his sleepy trio records would suggest and Monder tastefully adapting to this more conventional situation with the same finesse that he brings to the forward-thinking projects that serve as his bread and butter.
LaSpina's writing provides the fodder for the entire set and it's far-reaching in its seductiveness and range of moods. Just when you begin to finger pop to the catchy strains of "The Clouds," the next three pieces suggest a suite that hints at a more bucolic disposition. "No Exit" takes as it's jaunty theme a snippet of melody akin to Thelonious Monk's catchy hooks. Sensitively backed by Monder's acoustic, "Serenity" finds Drewes on clarinet and the whole piece echoes something Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless might have devised. Rounding things out, "New Day" and the closing "When It's Time Again" are decidedly upbeat, making the most out of the notable accord established between Monder and Hersch.
DISTANT DREAM stands out from the typical mainstream fare in its refusal to rehash the usual clichés. LaSpina's original work and the remarkable chemistry that exists between the quintet members help to make this set the keeper that it is.