John Stein: Serendipity – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

The title for John Stein’s latest release, Serendipity, is quite appropriate as it refers to the unexpected trajectory this CD took to get made. The complete story – detailed in the CD booklet by Stein himself – goes like this: “thanks” to the pandemic, Stein, along with Drummer Mike Connors and Bassist Ed Lucie, recorded a live streaming gig at the New Bedford Art Museum for an audience of one (the engineer) courtesy of the Whaling City Sound record label that Stein is associated with. Through a small series of events, said recorded stream was mixed and mastered expertly and thus a CD was born. Serendipity indeed!

Running at a little less than an hour (54 minutes), the CD features a rewarding blend of hallmark Jazz standards and Stein originals. Tunes like “Alfie’s Theme”, “On Green Dolphin Street”, “Well, You Needn’t”, “Insensatez (How Insensitive)”, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” present Stein et al. with the compulsory harmonic and melodic challenges that separate the men from the boys as it were. Fortunately such “challenges” are handled effortlessly as Stein, Lucie and Connors swing and play their way through these stalwart chestnuts as only skilled players can…with accomplished ease!

The same can be said for these three adroit musicians as they steer their way through Stein’s original charts. “Labor of Love”, “Bing Bang Boom”, “Elvin!”, and “Happy Hour” get the same consummate treatment as the aforementioned standards, with each player relying on well-established “rules of engagement.” Swing, improvisation and mindful interplay are abundant in this trio’s performance as their musical sensibilities – combined with considerable talent and experience – makes for a most delightful and attention-grabbing listen.

Stylistically, and armed with a beautiful warm tone, John Stein embraces the melodic stylings of the great Jazz Guitarists like Kenny Burrell and Jim Hall as he plies his trade in making the music accessible to all rather than showboating to the few. In essence, Stein puts the “needs” of the tune first before his need to shine, although shine he does as melody, taste and substance are the orders of the day, with Lucie and Connors adhering to the same sonic aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong though, these boys can play and there is plenty of blowing where needed. They just do it in a more understated fashion where the value of swing and melodic phrasing supersede flash for the sake of flash.

This sensibility also works wonderfully with the tunes chosen for this particular session as the intimacy of a trio setting brings out more subtle harmonic and melodic nuances than might normally be heard otherwise in a larger ensemble. Well done gents!

So while we can all agree that the COVID Pandemic was – and still is – disruptive to say the least, John Stein has serendipitously found a way to offer us a slight reprieve from the crap-storm that has affected the majority of the planet. Thank you John, Mike and Ed and thank you Corina Willette for the beautiful cover art.

Please consider spreading the word about John and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this review amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

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