"It just kind of happened at a rehearsal at Jay's house," said Portland guitarist John Stowell, when asked about the wonderfully relaxed...
“It just kind of happened at a rehearsal at Jay’s house,” said Portland guitarist John Stowell, when asked about the wonderfully relaxed, dual-solo style on his new CD with Seattle trumpeter and saxophonist Jay Thomas.
“I really love that conversational approach,” Stowell said. “In some ways, it’s like that West Coast jazz, Gerry Mulligan thing, but it has a little sharper edge.”
Stowell and Thomas celebrate the release of their new album “Streams of Consciousness” (Pony Boy) with the rhythm section on the album — Chuck Kistler (bass) and Adam Kessler (drums) — at 8:30 tonight at Tula’s ($12; 206-443-4221 or www.tulas.com).
“Streams of Consciousness” is flat-out marvelous, not only relaxed and conversational, but deft, witty and warm. Blessed with a light touch, it has none of the self-consciousness of some of those old West Coast jazz records, when you sometimes felt like the music was saying, “Hey, look at the cool counterpoint and harmony we just pulled off.”
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The songs — a mix of standards and gems by Billy Strayhorn and Wayne Shorter — are fetchingly melodic; solos are short and to the point, and the interaction between these two phrase-masters sounds absolutely natural.
I especially enjoyed Strayhorn’s haunting ballad “Isfahan,” which opens with Thomas’ buttery trumpet tumbling down the opening line. On “Everything I Love,” you can almost hear the “words” to the musical conversation Stowell and Thomas are having as they signify on each other, sometimes overlapping, sometimes weaving around the same melodic material simultaneously.
When he plays tenor saxophone, Thomas sounds a lot like Joe Henderson, with a breathy sound, softly crying attack and harmonically sophisticated left turns.
Thomas plays locally all the time, Stowell less so, so this is a welcome, long-overdue collaboration, indeed.
Stowell, 56, has been on the Northwest scene since the ’70s, when he moved from New York to Portland and began a seven-year duo collaboration with bass virtuoso David Friesen. Since then, Stowell has played mostly on the West Coast, touring seven or eight months a year, teaching as he goes.
Highly regarded by musicians, he’s a longtime clinician at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, has written an instruction book for one of the top music publishers (Mel Bay) and has appeared with Friesen at the San Jose Jazz Festival.
The German luthier Hofner named a semihollow-body electric guitar after Stowell — the “Very Thin JS” — the one he plays on this album.
Stowell’s sound has a quiet glow — he used to play with even more reverb — so it’s no surprise he counts the great Jim Hall as an early influence. But Stowell’s fast, too, and not just in the lickety-split Pat Martino way, but with odd leaps and weird, oblique scales. He’s always been his own man, using a small pick and fingertips together to create a gently orchestral, call-and-answer sound.
His harmonic knowledge is encyclopedic. I left one of his clinics thinking it would take five lifetimes to practice everything he had mentioned.
In Stowell’s early days, all that knowledge and heavy reverb sometimes made for solos that were a bit notey and floaty. Today, he’s a truly grounded, mature player and should be much better known.
“That’s always been my challenge as a player,” said Stowell. “What I’m trying to do is find a balance between obliqueness and emotion. And lately, what I’ve been trying to do is develop a more melodic concept. I always tell students to listen to singers.”
I say listen to Stowell.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org