It's difficult to either match or deny the hyperbole with which Leo Feigin presented the 2000 release of the Fonda/Stevens Group's Live at the Bunker. Calling it the recording he'd been waiting for for 20 years, Feigin called it "a truly jazz CD ... They wrap up all the influences, all the sounds that came before, then they roll the universe into a ball and make it new!"
It's bold talk, even if it was a bit of PR hype, but the description still holds true seven years later. The trio on their new disc of the same name (recorded live in Poland in 2006) is rounded out by drummer Harvey Sorgen and without a horn they boldly move into the well-trod world of the piano trio, only to find a new path to cut. It's essentially mainstream music, confounded only by being so fresh. Michael Jefry Stevens' piano playing is not far removed from McCoy Tyner, or Dave Brubeck for that matter, with blocky chords underlying repeated melodies. Joe Fonda pushes harder, slapping his bass and mimicking vocals with his bow. Though he's more known as a prog drummer, Harvey Sorgen keeps pace here, backing the never-jarring, never-predictable compositions of the leaders.
Fonda's talents for traversing the in and the out primed him for a set of duets with Anthony Braxton, recorded at Wesleyan University in 1995 and originally issued by Konnex as 10 Compositions (Duet) 1995. Braxton, too, has a love for the vanguard of jazz history as well as his own explorations and he calls upon Fonda to meet him in the middle for Cole Porter's "All of You" and Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York." Fonda in turn supplies two pieces of his own and the pair spends a little over half an hour working through Braxton's compositions 136, 173 and a pairing of 147 and 168. While these are probably the most 'important' tracks on the discand it's always interesting to hear Braxton's compositions pared down to duoit's the standards that steal the show. Braxton has for decades had to insist that he is a jazz saxophonist and does know how to swing and his joyful, knotty solos here more than prove the case.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Soon to Know; The Search; Andrea; From the Source; The Path; Break Song.
Personnel: Joe Fonda: double bass; Harvey Sorgen: drums; Michael Jefry Stevens: piano.
Tracks: All of You; Relentlessness; Out of the Cage; Something From the Past; Composition No. 168(+147); Composition No. 136; Composition No. 173; Autumn in New York.
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone, C melody saxophone, contrabass clarinet, B flat clarinet; Joe Fonda: bass.