Bill Stevens: Dedication (2003)
Dedications (plural) would be a more appropriate title for this collection of ten compositions by trumpeter/composer Bill Stevens honoring some of his most important influences, including trumpeters Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Miles Davis, as well as pianists/composer/arrangers Gil Evans, McCoy Tyner, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Performed by a sextet of less widely known, younger players, much of the music on the date is enjoyable, but taken as a whole the album falls slightly off the mark, especially when compared to the musicians whose influence on the leader is so obviously displayed in his compositions. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then many of these dedicatees should be sincerely flattered.
Stevens’ dedication to Lee Morgan, "Special Subji" (which is harmonically more akin to Woody Shaw), promisingly opens the disc, displaying some fine playing, particularly by tenor player Charlie Gusher, who exhibits a strong affection for Wayne Shorter’s style combined with a soft, round Hank Mobley-influenced sound; and trombonist Terry Schwandron, whose full tone is very appealing, though occasionally uneven.
The ballad "For You" is a pretty song reminiscent of Horace Silver’s "Peace," but "The Gift," written for Freddie Hubbard, is more than slightly derivative of more familiar pieces. "The Master" demonstrates a sound understanding of Ellington and Strayhorn, but unfortunately Stevens’ efforts to create dissonant harmonies leads to some out-of-tune playing. "Sphere" is an up-tempo tribute to Monk that reveals how most of the musicians are much better at playing fast than slow.
The leader’s muted trumpet on the Gil Evans dedication "Svengali" displays the strong influence of Miles Davis in a Sketches of Spain -like environment. "If You Know What I Mean" is an unremarkable tribute to Woody Shaw in the Jazz Messenger mold. On the "Untitled Ballad," the ensemble haphazardly wanders tonally off center, again revealing several of the players’ difficulty with a slower tempo. The Tynerish "Actually" is one of the date’s most enjoyable pieces, perhaps for its simplicity and lack of overreaching, as well as the excellent playing of pianist Elliot Honig. The finale, "Miles to Go" (a suite in four stylistic movements), details different phases of Davis’ creative output from bop to fusion, in an enjoyable, but somewhat academic fashion. This composition class exercise deserves a B+, if not an A.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: 1. Special Subji 2. For You 3. The Gift 4. The Master 5. Sphere 6. Svengali 7. If You Know What I Mean 8. Untitled Ballad 9. Actually 10. Miles to Go (a suite in four stylistic movements)
Record Label: MilesSmiles