Steve Million – What I Meant to Say

What I Meant to Say was released back in August 2021, but the press release was only recently sent to me, which is why this review is behind the curve. Pianist Steve Million is another of those American artists I am not familiar with, so I am at least pleased to be able to hear something, that to me, is new(ish). The press release pack gives me some information as to how the album came about:

What I Meant to Say from pianist and composer Steve Million is an homage to the enduring relationships of the old friends and musical compatriots who have come together after 30 years to make music once again.

The music on What I Meant to Say harkens back to their original concepts for the music. All the tunes were composed by Million, several of which had not been performed since those early days. Million had to listen to tapes to recreate some of the music, because he did not have any charts from that period. A few other tunes, like ‘Open the Book’, ‘My Explanation’, ‘Missing Page’, ‘Situations’ and ‘Blue Lizard’ have made it onto other recordings Millions released over the years.

So, essentially, this album is a kind of ‘Best Of…’

According to William Brownlee of plasticsax.com ‘musicians have long been required to play with tactful quietude if they intend to find steady work in Kansas City’s jazz venues’ and that is reflected across this ten-track album of “gentle” jazz. However, that is not to say that this release lacks energy as can clearly be heard on track four ‘The Company’. I am getting ahead of myself here so let’s go to the beginning with ‘Open the Book’.

Track one starts with the beautifully mellifluous piano of Steve Million augmented by the subtle drumming of Ron Vincent. Steve Cardenas continues this engaging melodic line on guitar with the merest hint of bass to round out the tonal quality of this delightful opening number. ‘Old Earl’ picks up the tempo with both guitar and drums playing with increased volume levels. The introduction of the piano changes the form to an Afro-Cuban vibe, which the drums pick-up on as the Steve Million moves the mode on again. I like the way this tune is constructed, and the playing is terrific and fun.

Cover design & layout
by John Bishop

The album’s title track, ‘What I Meant to Say’, is a more sedate affair akin to track one in style. There is a wonderful bass solo from John Sims to enjoy. ‘The Company’ is a tune of three sections with piano and guitar taking the lead in parts one and three with part two being introduced with more great John Sims bass. Ron Vincent plays some driving beats on this number and Steve Cardenas guitar work takes on a rockier edge in the third part before it all fades out nicely with Steve Million at the piano.

‘Situations’ opens with what sounds like a relatively simple, low-key introduction before the tempo increases. Piano and guitar exchange lead with Ron Vincent providing rippling drum accompaniment along with solid bass lines from John Sims. ‘My Explanation’ is one Million’s earliest compositions and an enjoyable one at that. The interaction between piano and guitar is wonderful and the light and shade generated by Ron Vincent on drums is most satisfying.

‘Waltz for Mr Abercrombie’ is an homage to musician John Abercrombie. John Sims excels on the bass and the playing of Steve Cardenas does credit to the tribute to a fellow jazz guitarist. ‘Missing Page’ was written by Steve Million when in New York City and missing his daughter Peige. This is a gentle tune with piano, guitar, and bass each taking a turn leading on this tender melody.

The penultimate track ‘Azusa Dreams’ is written for the visual artist Azusa Nakazawa: Steve’s wife. This another well-composed tune that has the variation in delivery to keep the listener engaged throughout.  This group of musicians, originally called The Four Friends, used to open their sets with the final track of this album ‘Blue Lizard’. This is a great blues tune written in ¾ time and a fitting end to highly enjoyable album.

Journalist, music critic, and radio host Neil Tesser perhaps sums up the music on What I Meant to Say the best, “Million doesn’t rely on fireworks or flash; the impact of his work comes in a steady accretion of ideas over the course of an improvisation and the gorgeous details of his interaction with the rhythm section.”

I really can’t think of anything to either add or detract from what Neil Tesser says. This album came late to me but I am glad that it came at all because it has been an absolute pleasure to hear. What I Meant to Say is available from Bandcamp.

Musicians: Steve Million – Piano; Steve Cardenas – guitar; John Sims – bass; Ron Vincent – drums.

Tracklist: 1. Open the Book. 2. Old Earl. 3. What I Meant to Say. 4. The Company. 5. Situations. 6. My Explanation. 7. Waltz for Mr Abercrombie. 8. Missing Page. 9. Azusa Dreams. 10. Blue Lizard.

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