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The package design for Soulservice’s debut CD, Stop Look and Listen, hints at Blue Note’s famously lean and blocky style, but it receives a desktop-publishing gradation of sky blue that makes it look like a hard bop artifact with a ’90s-style soft focus. I was truly afraid of flipping the jewel case over only to find that John Tesh was sitting in on “The Sidewinder.” But jazzy fans be gone: Stop Look and Listen is a sincere and emotional collection of post-bop tunes by bassist Mark Z. Saltman and pianist William A. Knowles, featuring saxophonist Charles Langford, and one of the best drummers in the biz, Ralph Peterson.

Connecticut native Saltman and Wisconsin son Knowles hooked up at the University of Massachusetts as composition majors, before relocating their musical aspirations to the District (Knowles was an undergraduate at Howard and liked the area). At UMass, the two found they not only shared musical interests, but were also fans of Star Trek and old diners. Saltman adds that they “were two of the only people really interested in playing a lot, just practicing, jamming, and doing different things.” It seems slightly odd—a music department filled with players unwilling simply to play. “We thought it was odd, too,” he says, “but in a school setting a lot of times people tend to get into doing school, or other things. A lot of people don’t necessarily feel the need to be playing all the time. We stuck to doing what we thought was right.”

Though jazz has been institutionalized, there still looms a romantic notion that you can really be educated only on the bandstand. But both Knowles and Saltman are happy they kept up their studies, because “nowadays there aren’t as many bandstands to jump onto,” Knowles admits. “If you can get on a bandstand consistently, great; if not, [school] is probably the best place to learn. I was very pleased with some of the things I learned. Some of the people I met are valuable people.”

“Like any situation, there’s some good and bad in it,” says Saltman. “We had some wonderful teachers, including Dr. Yusef Lateef. He influenced our thinking a lot.” (Saltman must have been a stellar student, because he just recorded an album, Soul and Gold, with his former professor.)

The impetus for forming Soulservice was as spontaneous as the duo’s music. “A lot of groups are playing standards, but our focus is on [our own] compositions,” says Saltman. “We wanted to hear some of the things we were working on in a group setting, so we did a little recording and it came out very well…and we decided we should really pursue it further.”

“When you write something, it’s really rewarding to hear it in its final form,” says Knowles. “You have a tendency to hear the tune in your head a certain way, but to actually hear it in reality, in that same fashion, is very uplifting. It serves the soul.”

Stop Look and Listen can be purchased for $15.95 postage paid by calling (202) 328-9257.—Christopher Porter