Dayna Stephens Trio: Liberty

Friedrich Kunzmann By

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Dayna Stephens Trio: Liberty
Saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric Harland, together with two handfuls of original compositions, make Liberty a hip and bopping success. Who needs chords, when three voices and tones are able to interact so seamlessly and easily with one another—carefully planting ideas, picking them up and elegantly developing them over the continuing stream of bars and measures? Stephens' round tone and clear melodic language are remarkably well accompanied in a set of tunes made up of catchy heads, tight solos and driven explorations.

Winding twists and turns, expressed rhythmically as well as melodically, characterize the Coltranian "Kwooked Stweet"—a tune which Stephens wrote in the crooked street capital of San Francisco. The full spectrum of the group is exposed in this tune, going from sparse and melodic tom fills through swinging cymbal work to fiercely walking bass lines and telling saxophone phrases.

Stephens' delivery reveals profound harmonic knowledge and a deep emotional connection, yet the saxophonist never loses control over the color of his tone, only rarely allowing distortion passage into the higher frequencies of the instrument. The trio's take on "The Lost and Found," famously featured as the title track to Gretchen Parlato's album of the same name, is an exemplary demonstration of how well harmonic ideas can be expressed even by a chordless trio. The slow and steady changes are dominated by a well-wrought percussive drum beat and Street's lyrical bass vocabulary.

Of course, besides the musical message, the album delivers a social one of peace and togetherness as well. The latter isn't just expressed through the record's title but represented by the meaning behind the tunes' titles as well. "At Least 37th cousins" serves as a reminder that everyone is related to one another in some way or another, while "Tarifa" refers to the city on the southern border of Spain and Morocco, where the division between different people was most noticeable to Stephens when playing a gig there some time ago.

No matter what the trio put their minds to, the three improvisors deliver in a cunning and uniquely collective fashion. The deconstructed drum work over the whimsical changes of "Loosy Goosy" or the comfortably swinging sax swirls on Aaron Parks' "Planting Flowers" (written at 15 years old!) show that they are mainly here to have fun and they effortlessly convey that joy to the listener. Truly a sublime trio recording!

Track Listing

Ran; Faith leap; Kwooked Stweet; The Lost and Found; At Least 37th Cousins; Loosy Goosy; Tarifa; Rhyming History; Planting Flowers; The Sound Goddess; Wil's Way.


Dayna Stephens: saxophone, tenor; Eric Harland: drums; Ben Street: bass.

Album information

Title: Liberty | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Contagious Music

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