The Fonda/Stevens Group: Forever Real (2005)
This effort is the eighth recording from the Fonda/Stevens Group. Largely unknown here in the US, the group is well recognized in Europe, certainly unfortunate as it deserves recognition. Bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens have played together in a variety of settings, notably with Dave Douglas in the early '90s. For more than a decade, with the addition of drummer Harvey Sorgen, this group has been a rare commodity, keeping a consistent foundation with longevity. Few working bands can boast such continuity given the inherent financial and logistical realities.
All of the compositions on this disc belong to either Fonda or Stevens. Stylistic categories are simply too confining for this ensemble's inventive originality. There is a running dialogue between all members during each song, with free flowing interplay and technically adept design. Those considering spectatorship should be aware that the music requires participation, not unlike reading a serious novel. This is not background music. Take some quiet time, pay attention, and you will be fully rewarded.
Herb Robertson uses all the sounds available from his trumpet, summoning memories of Lester Bowie, always a welcome happenstance. Breaths, grunts, pops, and bellows augment his use of traditional tones. Throughout the disc, Fonda provides necessary support with strong soloing. Sorgen is particularly impressive. The fact that he also plays with the band Hot Tuna exemplifies his versatility. The inclusion of Maddox adds intrigue in spots, particularly his striking poetic uttering on "Cotton." After listening to this, you too will want to know what cotton is!
"The Stalker" is a mosaic capsule of what makes these guys special. Starting with a piano vamp, bowed bass, trumpet musings, and churning drum patterns, the tune unfolds and expands into unexpected territory. Melody is there, but subtly presented. Stevens leads the way with a solo full of block chords, melodic twists and harmonic questions. Robertson's explorations lead to a fleeting display from Sorgen played with controlled fire. Robertson brings the quartet back and the tune slowly dissolves. Nice!
Bands as dynamic as this present a solid test of engineering skill. In that regard Jonathan Townes warrants mention, as the recording quality is first rate. Each player is properly placed in the soundstage. Microphone choices and placement capture the particular qualities of each instrument. Piano and snare drum, not easily recreated, are superb. Cymbals are also present and distinctive.
This disc would be a welcome experience for any jazz fan. But it is well suited to those who prefer 21st century harmonies and a multicolored palette. These men play very well and I am grateful for the opportunity to comment. Heartily recommended.
Visit the Fonda/Stevens Group on the web.
Track Listing: Forever Real; From the Source; The Stalker; A Question of Love; Relentlessness; The Call; Cotton.
Personnel: Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Joe Fonda: acoustic bass; Herb Robertson: trumpet; Harvey Sorgen: drums. Special guest Napoleon Maddox: human beat box, poetry.
Record Label: 482 Music
Style: Modern Jazz