In a few years, people will probably be looking back on Blind Date as the album that really solidified Loren Stillman's reputation as one of the top jazzmen of his time.
Still only twenty-eight, Stillman has amazingly mature gifts. He cops to an influence by Lee Konitz, but every now and then a little Jackie McLean flame lights up. As for his compositional skills (he composed all nine cuts on this CD), Stillman betrays some of his classical studies with his usage of chromaticism, 12-tone melodies, atonal music, and other big words.
We haven't even mentioned the band on Blind Date yet. It's a beauty and space doesn't allow us to outline each member's CV here. Suffice it to say: Gary Versace, piano; Drew Gress, bass; and Joey Baron, drums. A stunning lineup on paper, no? Wait'll you hear them.
The album starts with the mysterioso title track, with Stillman's alto and Versace's piano playing hide-and-seek and tag throughout the first chorus, giving way to a wonderful bass solo by Gress. Baron stays on or near his cymbals for most of the cut, through solos by Stillman and Versace. The whole band ends the cut with some beautiful contraputal lines. And so the stage is set.
"What Will Other People Think" is a fun six-eightish pattern that stops first for Baron's stop-start-bet-you-can't-catch-me solos, then for Gress', and Versace's, and Stillman's answers. On this and other compositions, Stillman seems to like to take his tunes on a journey that ends far from where he starts them.
After the first of two "Etudes" comes the focal point of Blind Date. "Shape Shifter" is exactly what its title describes, with each member of the quartet soloing. Each of them seems to choose different shapes in which to frame their solos. All four of the solos are exemplary, but Gary Versace's lightning-quick yet playful turn reminds one of Chick Corea a little around the edges. And Joey Baron's explosive commentary over the rest of the group's riffing is poetry in motion. Loud poetry, but poetry nonetheless.
Then there's funk ("Theme for a New Regime"), a wildly-building-race-to-the-finish-line rave ("Don't Be Too Nice"), a couple of lesser lights (the Latinish "General" and the pretty "Legroom"), the afore-mentioned second "Etude (reprise)", and there you have it: One of the great jazz albums of the last five years. This critic, for one, looks forward with eager anticipation for Loren Stillman's next release.