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October 2023
Vol. 23, No. 1

CD Reviews


by Wayne RikerJanuary 2022

Jazz Words is the seventh CD release from Chicago-based pianist Steve Million, which includes eight original tracks featuring vocalist Sarah Marie Young to accommodate his lyrics along with a solid rhythm section of John Sims on bass, Juan Pastor on drums, and the musically mercurial Jim Gailloreto on sax and flute.
It’s an eclectic compositional journey of words and music beautifully constructed from track to track, leading off with “Heavens to Monkitroid,” an obvious nod to pianist Thelonious Monk’s outside-the-box heads, embellished in stride piano fashion. Young joins in after the head and makes her impressive vocal presence known right away with vocal riffs reminiscent of Annie Ross, concluding with Gailloreto and Million strutting their stuff with swing and be bop-phrased solos.
The gospel flavored ¾ waltz, “Mis’ry Waltz,” is highlighted by Gailloreto’s soulful sax solo along with Young’s mellifluous vocal tones. “Missing Page” takes another 180 degree turn as one is reminded immediately of the seminal 1973 collaboration of pianist Chick Corea and vocalist Flora Purim. The wide range melody is aptly supported by Gailloreto’s rhythmic accompaniment on sax and Pastor’s tasty syncopated drum work behind Young’s spot on vocal inflections.
The tender ballad “Hymnal” is a musical theater-like showstopper featuring Young’s poignant vocal backed by Million’s lush chord changes. “Nika’s Changes” is set in a 5/4 time signature, fueled behind Sims’ punchy obligato bass figures and Young successfully handling the challenges of Million’s syncopated rhythmic and melodic compositional structure with Gailloreto pouring out fluent staccato and legato phrases à la John Coltrane.
“Cold Wind” is a silky 6/8 jazz waltz bookended by a tightly knit piano and vocal duet with smooth improvisational solos from Sims and Million, climaxed by Gailloreto’s flawless flute flutterings.
Lyrics of love and loss come into focus on “Loss,” featuring tightly woven ensemble instrumental and vocal phrases followed by effortless double-time bop-phrased solos from Million and Gailloreto.
The closing track, “A Way Home,” a dreamy flowing ballad, is a fitting close to this delightful collection of original compositions from Million, which not only highlight his musical chops but also his intricate chordal and melodic tune structures and lyrical prowess. “No song can be unsung…we’re always close to home…in our hopes and our dreams.”

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