Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson: One of a Kind
The piano trio has been a staple of jazz forever, and one would think all the approaches have been found. Regardless of who the “leader” is, the trio’s sound is almost always led by the personality of the pianist. If I mention “simultaneous improvisation”, you will likely think of Bill Evans-type introspection. This group belongs in neither category. You get plenty of interplay, but you also get the straightforward charge of the traditional trio. It’s a refreshing sound – one of a kind? Well, I’ve never heard it before...
The title tune opens with Michael Stevens, playing the strong riff with his left hand. You know it’s something different when the backing chords come from the right hand! Come the tune proper, the right hand resumes its typical primacy, and Tim Ferguson picks up the riff dropped by the piano. Jeff Siegel’s drums are light and hyperactive, and he doesn’t skimp on the cymbals. He reminds you of Elvin Jones, while Stevens evades classification. While pounding the riff, Stevens is apt to add chords or a note to make you go “What?” While this is happening, Siegel picks up the volume, and his part doesn’t seem to go with the time. (It’s not as “timeless” as Joe Morello’s solo on “Take Five”, but it is a surprise.) While remaining in the parameters, the group has done something startling. In five minutes, they manage to stand apart from the other trios you’ve heard.
“Waltz for Zweetie” shows the group in the familiar Bill Evans mold. It’s one long bass solo, and Ferguson sings as he plucks it, partly with the old-fashioned fat sound and partly with the LaFaro “guitar” style. Stevens is soft for most of this; on his solo he steps out, and we hear a little blues, a smidgen of Tyner intensity, and what sounds like a quote of “Spartacus”. Then all is sedate, and Siegel’s brushes work overtime as the last of the tinkles fade away.
“The Moffett Family” is a grand old blues, but it’s 16 bars long, and in 6/8! The full chords ring, and Siegel clicks strongly. Stevens’ solo goes into double time, with percussive slams on the uppermost keys. All goes quiet as Ferguson goes deep: the tones are round and full of that “wood” sound. The clock ticks off “Caravan”, and Stevens gives the theme, playing it with both hands at once. Siegel begins to get complex; Stevens chords on the bridge. Ferguson’s deep solo is mostly obscured by Siegel’s frenzy. Stevens has a brief solo, and returns to the theme in a long fadeout, when we hear the caravan go off into the sunset.
Stevens’ “Jazz Tune” is a funky thing, a 12-bar almost-blues. (The structure is A-B-C, for those who care about such things.) Stevens gets lush on the exchanges; Siegel starts simple and builds, as is his wont. Siegel’s “Habitat” is a tender 6/8, with exotic cymbals. Stevens starts subdued, and goes through some crazy mood swings. Romantic leads to bluesy leads to lush, and then to quietude. Stevens then THINKS his comping for Ferguson’s solo (that’s what it sounds like; you can barely hear it!) Siegel is more active on this set of exchanges, and this one closes as intensity INCREASES – a nice touch.
“I Fall in Love Too Easily” begins with lovely high notes and becomes a typical Evans ballad. He fiddles a bit with a loping phrase, and is tender as anything (there also a near-quote of “Django”.) “Sunrise in Mexico” sets up a tough bass riff, and a quavering piano to show an ominous climate. Stevens sounds nervous, darting to and fro, even using some Vince Guaraldi chords! Siegel’s “Lenny” is a tender samba; Stevens begins his solo with slides, then plays with a series of patterns, lastly ending in thick chords as the left hand answers back. It’s friendly and distinctive – like the trio itself.