Thursday, February 25, 2021

John Stein "Watershed"

You could say that John Stein has been working towards this moment for most of his career. Both as an educator, and as an acclaimed jazz guitarist, Stein has been building his audience, building his understanding of the idiom, and creating a style for himself, a unique form of expression that will, without a doubt, establish him as a premier purveyor of jazz on guitar. 

Watershed, the guitarist’s 15th overall recording and his 11th for Whaling City Sound, is definitely that moment. The recording presents Stein and his band digging into a remarkable set of deep grooves with incredible clarity and creativity. With a wonderfully diverse repertoire, one that traverses a spectrum of styles and tempos, the band approaches Stein’s song selections with genuine flair and a shared energy. Watershed was recorded last May while on a concert tour in Brazil with Brazilian jazz stars: Frank Herzberg (bass), Zé Eduardo Nazario (drums), Daniel Grajew (keyboards), and Teco Cardoso (flute and saxes). The musicians peel back the layers of these compositions to reveal the magic hiding in these grooves and rhythms. Each contributor is an equal accomplice, especially on tunes like the delicate opener and Stein original "Rio Escuro,” the friskier, more playful “Kobe,” the hushed but sassy funk of Pat Martino’s “Cisco,” and the breezily melodic “Wally.” Stein has always been inspired by the jazz genius Jim Hall, and here he takes a brilliant turn on Hall’s own composition, “Waltz New.” Stein’s soloing here is transcendent, proving that he deserves the Hall comparisons and then some. 

Throughout the recording, each musician’s individual brilliance and cooperative spirit work together to elevate the style, the variety, the grooves, and Watershed’s authentic emotion. “Every time I listen to this recording,” Stein says, “I hear how deep and committed the grooves are on each tune. Every musician is coordinated and expressing the essence of the music with a unified voice.” 

Stein, now newly retired from his acclaimed teaching career at Berklee College (also his alma mater), demonstrates he is ready for his curtain call, his opportunity to shine in the spotlight of jazz performance. He also seems to be determined to allow his band to lift his performance and take it to new and greater heights. Watershed is a magical achievement, the result of Stein’s experience and insight, of his band’s inspiration and collaboration, and of the excitement generated by both together. Like the best bandleaders, Stein puts his love and respect for his band-mates before his own musical gratification, and Watershed is the tremendous gift that emerges from that selflessness.

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