Jazz veterans pianist Chip Stephens and baritone saxophonist Glenn Wilson present a unique jazz duo recording on new Capri Records release Sadness and Soul
"Chip Stephens is an impeccable technician, a clever, even daring composer, and a restless explorer of melody". - Carlo Wolff, All About Jazz
"Glenn Wilson is an unsung hero in modern jazz." - Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide
Sadness and Soul is warm, balanced, fluid music made from smartly chosen jazz standards and two originals played with feeling -- for expressivity, yes, and for fun. May we please have more. - Howard Mandel, writer, editor, President Jazz Journalists Association...
With their Capri release Sadness and Soul (available October 18, 2019), Chip Stephens and Glenn Wilson present a stunning recording of piano/baritone saxophone duets featuring some jazz standards and two original compositions reharmonized and performed with the freedom of expression that can only come from two jazz masters immersed deeply in their craft. Stephens and Wilson have played together for over 18 years and the duo is two years old. With advanced and interesting reharmonizations and without the bass and drums to hold down the rhythm, they take off on flights of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic fancy at a moment's notice. As Wilson comments, "We never play anything the same way once". Others agree. Musician, producer, jazz historian, and educator Bill Kirchner says: "hearing two world-class players shine in this duo setting is an utter joy. Most of all, check out their versions of Monk's 'Round Midnight' and Coltrane's 'Countdown' - both instant classics." Larry Kart, author of Jazz in Search of Itself, agrees. "The degree of musical interpenetration that the Stephens-Wilson duo arrive at is almost without precedent...it's difficult to sort out whether a figure Stephes has just played has been inspired by something Wilson has just played or vice versa… their reshapings of two familiar Coltrane pieces are quite novel ('Giant Steps' is lilting and lyrical, while 'Countdown' virtually becomes a ballad), and their solemn, almost ten-minute journey through ' 'Round Midnight' is masterly - as, indeed, the entire album is." On the opening track, John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Stephens and Wilson improvise together on the difficult changes taken at a medium tempo. Often Giant Steps is taken at breakneck speed, leading improvisers to fall back on patterns and licks. Wilson and Stephens explore the harmonic sophistication of Giant Steps with melodic flare and it's often difficult to tell who is accompanying whom. Coltrane's Countdown, also usually given the breakneck treatment, is handled here with a gentle Latin feel (with reharmonization, of course). The title track, Sadness and Soul, a Stephens original, is a beautiful bossa with such a strong melody that lyrics seem inevitable. The other original, Wilson's Adams Park, named after Park "Pepper" Adams, the great baritonist and Wilson's friend and mentor, employs some of Pepper's pet phrases into a melody that is stated with calm beauty and is reminiscent of Billy Strayhorn. Round Midnight is another reharmonization which Chip performs on prepared piano and, with limited improvisation, is a melodic and harmonic tour-de-force. In a Mellow Tone and Spring is Here are both reharmonized, with melodic changes to match the harmonies and are fresh takes on those much-loved songs. Richard Rodgers' My Romance is performed in two keys in a novel arrangement that swings hard without a bass and drummer. The album closes with a unique arrangement of Gershwin's Our Love is HereTo Stay in which the form and harmony are altered but the melody never disappears. Sadness and Soul is a unique collaboration between two jazz masters who are not afraid to let the music and melody speak for itself. Jazz aficionados will appreciate the sophisticated harmonic arrangements of these songs, but non-jazzers can just revel in the beauty of the low horn's unexpectedly broad range and rich timbres, turned to song by a lyrical yet tough melody-maker, and the piano's grand as well as close-up possibilities, brought to life by an inventive improviser with a deft touch.
Sought after for his outstanding collaborative abilities, Chip Stephens can be heard on nearly 70 recordings as a sideman and band leader.... A powerful jazz pianist, hard swinging, lyrical and clear, Stephens has performed on four continents with some of the most prestigious names in jazz. In addition to performing on Grammy and Emmy winning recordings with trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval, Stephens has performed with revered musicians Eden Atwood, Michael Brecker, Jerry Brown, Kenny Burrell, John Fedchock, Maynard Ferguson, Curtis Fuller, George Garzone, Greg Gisbert, Benny Golson, The Woody Herman Orchestra, Charlie Haden, Conrad Herwig, Milt Hinton, Red Holloway, Javon Jackson, Ingrid Jensen, Randy Johnston, Steve Kirby, Bill Kirchner, Ernie Krivda, Ralph Lalama, Tony Leonardi, Joe Lovano, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Keith Oxman, Tito Puente, Nelson Rangell, Bobby Shew, Howie Smith, Clark Terry, Frank Tiberi, Roseanna Vitro, The Jim Widner Big Band and Glenn Wilson.
Glenn Wilson has been a professional jazz saxophonist for nearly 50 years. After completing his undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University in 1977, Wilson moved to New York City, where he worked and recorded with The Buddy Rich Band, Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Tito Puente, Machito, Bill Kirchner Nonet, Bob Belden Ensemble, and scores of other jazz and Latin-jazz groups. Glenn recorded his first CD as a leader, the highly-reviewed Impasse, in 1984 for Cadence Records. In 1988, Glenn began his association with Sunnyside Records with the release of Elusive. Three more CDs with Sunnyside - Bittersweet, Blue Porpoise Avenue, and One Man's Blues - as well as a recording for Timeless Records, Lee's Keys Please, followed in the next decade. Glenn's CDs are featured in the Penguin Guide of Jazz and The Grammophone Guide to Good Jazz and he earned a place in the Baritone Saxophone category of the DownBeat Magazine Jazz Critics Poll. Wilson was awarded a gold record for his playing and arrangements on Bruce Hornsby's 1993 recording Harbor Lights. The Devil's Hopyard, featuring his group TromBari with trombonist Jim Pugh, was released in May 2012 and Timely, a live quintet recording released in 2015, made many critics' "Best of 2015" lists. Wilson leads an active touring schedule performing in clinics, concerts and clubs and can be reached at www.jazzmaniac.com
Baritone saxophone and piano duets are rare in jazz, but bari saxist Glenn Wilson and pianist Chip Stephens prove throughout Sadness and Soul that these instruments belong together. ...
The low horn's unexpectedly broad range and rich timbres, turned to song by a lyrical yet tough melody-maker, and the piano's grand as well as close-up possibilities, brought to life by an inventive improviser with a deft touch, here result in warm, balanced, fluid music made from smartly chosen jazz standards and two originals played with feeling -- for expressivity, yes, and for fun.
Sadness and soul, as embodied by Chip Stephens' title composition, I take to be the blues that comes from real living, with the inevitable attendant pain and loss, and the essential spirit that's our best resource in response to this mean old world. Familiarity with these qualities of being may truly be pre-requisites of artistic mastery for jazz musicians, contrasting but intersecting though they do like Chip's bass figures and the samba pulse Glenn floats upon until his reflections are brought up short. But there are other dimensions and perspectives that Stephens and Wilson tap in Sadness and Soul, too, through their mutual musical engagements, explorations, extrapolations and creative joy.
The two have an overall bias towards tunefulness (just consider the songwriters' represented in their repertoire!), happily extended to embrace challenges. Take "Giant Steps" - if you dare, as Wilson and Stephens do, right at the start. John Coltrane's composition, a steeplechase across chord changes, is always a test piece, yet the players - as it happens, both highly regarded jazz professors at Illinois universities - ace it by emphasizing not flashy technical feats but rather the pleasures and surprises of close collaboration.
They start in assured quick step that each takes his own way while staying connected, aware of each other, until their two lines become so braided as to confound distinctions between leader and accompanist, front and field. Somehow, they pirouette to a graceful conclusion. As partners, they had led and accompanied each other simultaneously, continuously, hand-in-hand. Oh yeah -- note Glenn's seemingly natural and unforced final high pitch. That ain't easy.
So it goes with Richard Rodgers' irresistibly upbeat "My Romance," (in two keys) at just the right tempo to keep momentum without implying haste. The pace is fine for Wilson's vocal-like phrasing and when he drops out, Stephens' intricate two-hand interplay; when Glenn rejoins Chip, they're pals reunited. Similar exchanges, counterpoint, arranged and spontaneous reharmonizations also occur on Rodger's "Spring Is Here," George Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here To Stay" and "Melatonin'" the duo's revision of Duke Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone."
"Similar" does not mean the same, routine or simple. There are unsettling final gestures on "Romance" and "Spring," modulations, squalls and tangles of "Melatonin'," a Latin groove implied for Coltrane's "Countdown", and especially the duo's epic dive into Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." The musicians' unique forays always shift and deepen moods. Chip plumbs the darkness; Glenn illuminates it, tenderly.
They've developed such empathy with practice; Stephens and Wilson have known each other and played together a long time. Both are originally from Ohio and despite a ten-year age difference (Glenn's the elder) were both aware of connections amounting to parallel paths. Chip, for instance, taught at Glenn's alma mater, Youngstown State University, in the 90's with the great bassist/educator Tony Leonardi, Glenn's jazz mentor. During the period from the late '70s to the early '90s, the bari saxist was based in New York City, making his mark with the headlining big bands still touring then -- Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Tito Puente -- and his own concert and recording projects. When Glenn moved to central Illinois in 2001, he and Chip (whose resume is similarly rich with credits with world-renown players, such as Michael Brecker, Benny Golson, Charles McPherson, Arturo Sandoval, Curtis Fuller, Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson), established their duet. They built a following with their once-a-month gig at the Iron Post in Champaign-Urbana, where the pianist is a University of Illinois professor. Glenn is jazz director at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, fifty miles away.
Of course, jazz can conquer distance, and time, too. In "Adams Park," Wilson's dedication to his mentor/friend, the late baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams (named at birth "Park Frederick Adams III"), he pays respects by echoing some of Adams' pet phrases in the melody. Stephens' solo, seemingly free in form and rhythm, nonetheless tells a story (perhaps informed in part by the health crisis he describes in his personal note), and again, the two conclude as one.
Earlier bari-pianist duet albums are apparently limited to Joe Temperley's with Dave McKenna and Junior Mance, and Hamiet Bluiett's with Muhal Richard Abrams and Larry Willis. Gifted with such a lovely addition to the form, thanks is due baritonist Glenn Wilson and pianist Chip Stephens for Sadness and Soul. And may we please have more?
- Howard Mandel