Review by Brad Walseth
"Some Wonderful Moment" is the debut album from the Jason Steele Ensemble, and it is a wonderful listening experience indeed. Between keyboardist Keith Johnson's solo electric piano versions of the tune "i" that bookend the recording, the listener is transported into a mysterious and mellifluous musical melange created by guitarist Steele and his cohorts.
Jason Steele has a unique approach to the guitar in that he uses deceptive subtlety to urge the music forward. His lines waft to and fro like the movement of seaweed in a rippling tidepool. His arpeggiated voicings hint at folk and rock, reminding one a bit of Bill Frisell. Steele's quiet lines are haunting in their persistance, and he is expert at using silence as a tool - often patiently sitting out and allowing his bandmates the opportunity to stretch out before fading back in with the theme.
The members of the ensemble take advantages of their opportunities. The aforementioned Johnson shows both creativity and taste in his shimmering Fender Rhodes pastels. The primary soloist - cornetist Ron Miles has worked with Frisell in the past, and his sensitive, exhilarating horn playing (clear at times, rasping at other times) fits perfectly with Steele's understated guitar. John Sclar and Tim Sullivan add in some frisky tenor sax work (the latter on bass clarinet as well) - and one of the highlights is their duet solo on the hypnotic "No Words." Bassist Matt Ulery is an important contributor to the overall sound, and chips in a couple of well played solos; while drummer Charles Rumback's pulse is subdued, but active underneath. This group is augmented by Thad Franklin's fluid flugelhorn on a couple tunes.
"Unexpected You" is 11:10 and provides a pattern that is repeated in that the main theme is subverted during the lengthy mid-section (Ulery solos here), and introduces Steele - who doesn't appear until 3-1/2 minutes into the album. "i" provides a showcase for solos by Ulery and Miles, and the humble Steele's only solo of the album (and a tasty one at that). Meanwhile "Proceed to Numb" is 12:18 of a droning theme that morphs into a free form middle section before returning. "Horn Interlude" allows Miles more blowing room, while "Since Forever" could almost be a pop song from the '60s done as post-modern jazz; it is luscious and unforgettable. And certainly there is an indie rock/folk influence afoot, as is indicated by the cover of the late Elliott Smith's "Alphabet Town."
Delightfully perverse and beautifully morose at times, Steele's songs move from pensive contemplation into radical avant-garde blowing and back again without losing a beat, with Steele's floating motion providing the primary melodic impetus. For those who believe jazz is a dying form, Steele and his ensemble offer up this album, strung together with many wonderful moments, as a convincing response.
The Jason Steele Ensemble is appearing live at Big Dog Tavern Monday May 7