Pianist Chip Stephens shows his fine sense of melody and improvisation on this recording that strikes the right balance between original material and standards. They work well within the trio format, particularly with Ken Walker (bass) and Todd Reid (drums) providing solid support.
Stephens is colorful in his improvisations and gives harmony and dynamics a firm voice. This helps him navigate tunes from pianist Thelonious Monk and trumpeter Horace Silver with the same facility performed in his own compositions; the latter influence showing a preference for the blues and slower tunes that are rife with melody.
My Little Package serves as a fine example of Stephens' playing style and skill as a writer. It is a blues tune, but Stephens swings it nicely enough showing an emphatic chord hand that lets the melody flow and ebb. The stops and starts only go to accentuate the improvisation and with Reid and Walker in step, this package grabs attention.
Smiles Surrender is a pensive piece. Stephens ruminates with deliberation, notes falling like a soft rain. Even in that, he shows an authority with emphatic runs, pushing the pulse, then drawing back and nestling once more in calmer waters. Reid's drumming accents sparingly, with cymbals shimmering, letting their sound flow into the body of the composition to give it added dimension.
Aside from Monk and Silver, Stephens also has pianist McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance, an up tempo stream that surges forward. Stephens drives the bop tune hard, the momentum constant and resonating from an ornate cluster of notes. Stephens essays composer/songwriter Cole Porter's "Pretty Little Puppet with a gentle approach before upping the tempo in a dazzling array of notes that never clutter the tune's path.