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CD Review: Tim Stine “Knots”

By Hrayr Attarian

Tim Stine Knots

Tim Stine – Guitar

Nick Mazzarella – Alto saxophone

Quin Kirchner – Drums

Matt Ulery – Bass

Guitarist Tim Stine, who has been part of Chicago’s creative music scene for a dozen years now, has honed a distinctive style both as a composer and improviser. His highly original work exhibits the measured complexity of his Western classical education, the virtuosic agility of bop, and the unfettered and imaginative exploration of freer genres.

All this is quite evident on his second CD, released on the Portugal-based Clean Feed label: the engrossing Knots. Stine and his sidemen’s talents are self evident, however, the remarkability of the album lies elsewhere. Despite the extent of experimentation with tempo, tonality, and motifs, the pieces remain pliable and maintain cohesiveness and—above all—a captivating melodicism.

The title track, for instance, opens with short, angular group refrains. Saxophonist Nick Mazzarella weaves a contemplative and passionate improvisation that deftly meanders within the percolating rumble of his bandmates. Drummer Quin Kirchner’s thundering beats and bassist Matt Ulery’s lithe lines restlessly waver with pent-up energy, and Stine peppers the interplay with carefully timed strums. Intriguingly, the resulting whole is a vibrant entity that is more than the sum of its parts.

The expectant and dramatic “Quietus,” meanwhile, is a somber composition with silent pauses carefully integrated within it. Ulery’s pensive thumps and Kirschner’s rustling brushes and crashing cymbals set the backdrop for Stine’s Baroque-flavored solo. Stine pushes the boundaries of his instrument with thoughtful precision and poetic flair.

Similar stimulating contrasts exist on such tunes as “Kjallstert.” Within the edgy and taut cadence, Mazzarella’s warm and serpentine alto wails with bluesy hues. As the rhythmic vamps increase in their dynamism, so does the fury of Mazzarella’s extemporization. Stine lets loose brilliantly imaginative chords that are exhilarating in their spontaneity. Serene lyricism concludes the piece as well as the album.

While only Stine’s sophomore recording as a leader, the guitarist demonstrates surprisingly mature individuality on it. Knots combines brilliant artistry with restless inventiveness and emotive depth. It is a near-perfect record that enthralls on multiple levels.

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