Perhaps it’s just a simplistic tool of the trade of reviewing music, but this jazz fans swears the words of praise he used for Jazz Words, veteran pianist Steve Million’s dual album with vocalist (and fellow Thelonious Monk Piano Competition semi-finalist) Sarah Marie Young, apply equally to Million’s new sensitive and sensual yet swinging spirited instrumental quartet album What I Meant To Say. Because, yes and absolutely, both are collections of “uncommon heartfelt openness,” just using different modes of expression and showcasing different aspects of his collaborative artistry.
It makes even more sense considering that, after a too-long 13 year delay between releases, Million made the bold move of dropping them on the same day. Featuring fresh, dynamic re-imaginings of top notch tunes from throughout Million’s four decade plus career, What I Meant To Say is the contemporary jazz equivalent of The Blues Brothers’ desire to put the band back together.
On a mission from God? Maybe not, but there’s a lot of divine ensemble action happening and a wild back story full of shifting personnel that’s worthy of a musical action movie. Mostly though, it’s about a great longing by three onetime Kansas City bandmates (Million, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Ron Vincent) to reconnect after decades and miles apart. They invited bassist John Sims to complete the grooving energetic flow of the quartet vibe they envisioned.
You can feel their exuberance and passion throughout, whether they’re creating sparkling new twists on tune that Million recorded on previous solo albums (the sultry and elegant “Open the Book,” the whimsical and free-flowing “Azusa Dreams,” dedicated to Million’s wife); taking fresh and exciting looks at songs they played back in the day (the charming swinger “Old Earl,” the moody and seductive tribute “Waltz For Mr. Abercrombie,” the snazzy and snappy “Blue Lizard”); or working out arrangements of newer Million-penned gems like the playfully rhythmic and romantic title track.
Million gives thanks the “enduring friendship between the wonderful musicians on this project.” Now that the band’s back together, let’s hope those deep emotional connections grace us with a sequel.