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The two newest releases by pianist Michael Jefry Stevens reveal two complementary facets of the pianist's musicianship. Though the instrumentation is similar in both, the records were made almost a decade apart, with the older album featuring a lengthy set of Stevens compositions and the more recent album comprised entirely of spontaneous compositions. Taken in tandem, they provide a very telling cross-section of the pianist's skills and versatility.
For The Children was recorded almost a decade ago (now reaching listeners thanks to the Cadence Jazz Historical Series) and features Dominic Duval (bass), David Schnitter (saxophone) and Jay Rosen (drums). The group plays a diverse sampling of Stevens' tunes. This would be the ideal record for a listener looking to hear this collection of players operating in a more overtly jazz-oriented setting. All the compositions are more directly reminiscent of standard jazz vocabulary than listeners are likely to expect given Stevens' groups like Conference Call, Fonda/Stevens Group and the wonderful Mosaic Sextet, where traditional jazz vocabulary is just one of many influences that contribute to a pan-stylistic ensemble dynamic. The rhythm section of Rosen and Duval is a powerhouse with a reputation for providing plenty of diving energy for Joe McPhee in his Trio X, so it is quite a treat to hear them operate so exquisitely in a setting that puts very different skills on display.
"Sadness of the Madness," "The Hunt," "Sunny's Song" and the title track are all very lyrical, subdued works that display Stevens' affinity for composers like Duke Ellington while upbeat cuts like "Specific Gravity," "Henderson" and "Patato's Song" propel forward unrelentingly, but without giving over to complete abandon. The intensity level gets quite high but the vibe stays focused on its goals. The record's title track is dedicated to Dominic Duval's triplet sons, who were born just before the recording was made.
Switzerland's In Transit uses as much energy, intensity and sensitivity on Moving Stills In the liner notes, Solothurnmann likens the ensemble's methodology to that of a child creating elaborately imaginative constructs with building blocks, pointing out that the group's "instant composition" approach taps into the superego, placing the emphasis on the "doing, the becoming, the way," creating the type of "moving still" that is referred to by the title of the record. The contrast between the clearly-specified portraiture of the Stevens-penned compositions on the first disc and the paradoxical concept of the "moving stills" on the second contrast nicely and the two facets of his work are both compelling listening experiences.
Tracks and Personnel
For the Childen
Tracks: Specific Gravity; Henderson; Sadness of the Madness; The Hunt; Graduation; Sunny's Song; Patato's Song; For the Children; Lazy Waltz.
Personnel: Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; David Schnitter: tenor sax; Dominic Duval: bass; Jay Rosen: drums, percussion.
Tracks: Still; Canto Lunatico; Trio; Up-Current; Afar; Upsurge; Adagio; Twitters; Very Spring; Who's Knocking; Underneath; Coming and Going.
Personnel: Jurg Solothurnmann: Soprano and Alto sax; Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Daniel Studer: contra bass; Dieter Ulrich: drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.