An Alto Saxophonist Steps Modestly to the Fore
The alto saxophonist Loren Stillman communicates great intensity but not a lot of drama. He’s an intuitive, self-regulating improviser, averse to any flourish that calls attention to itself. What you hear in his playing is the real-time synthesis of information, chiefly melodic and harmonic, and the rigorous subtlety of his response. At 29, he pairs uncannily mature instincts with the open-minded spark of youth.
Well into his roughly 80-minute set at Le Poisson Rouge on Monday night, he ventured a lullaby called “Puffy” in a free-flowing tempo. It was one of half a dozen songs from his rewarding new album, “Winter Fruits” (Pirouet), due on Friday. And in one sense it was his first unambiguous solo turn, after plenty of full-court team exertion.
Mr. Stillman was appearing with Bad Touch, a group that also includes Gary Versace on organ, Nate Radley on guitar and Ted Poor on drums. Last year this band self-released its substantive debut, “Like a Magic Kiss,” pushing for recognition as a leaderless collective. That the same personnel appears on “Winter Fruits,” playing a lot of the same music, could be seen as progress — the new album, recorded and mixed with a larger budget, has a warmly balanced sound — but it also highlights the practical hurdle facing any jazz ensemble without a designated frontman, even one as unassuming as Mr. Stillman.