105

Michael Jefry Stevens: "Songbook"

David Adler By

Sign in to view read count
Michael Jefry Stevens
Cornelia Street Cafe
New York City
April 2000

Michael Jefry Stevens, a Brooklyn-based pianist with a taste for the avant-garde, has been pursuing a secret career as a jazz songwriter. That’s right: this Mark Whitecage-mentored purveyor of free improv has been building a stash of "songs with lyrics," on tried-and-true subjects like love and the blues, for the last twenty years. (Stevens credits Laura Arbuckle, Tania Lomnitz, and Kathleen Sannwald as his lyrical collaborators.) Shyness, he admits, is what kept him from going public with these songs until now. For precisely this reason, he’s got the ultra-extroverted singer Miles Griffith to belt them out for his debut "Songbook" concert. Playing Hammond organ, Stevens is also joined by Kevin McNeal on guitar and Rob Garcia on drums, both of whom bring buckets of good taste to bear on the material.
The group opens with "Red’s Blues," primarily a scat vehicle for Griffith. The fireplug of a vocalist brings a trumpet-like attack to the melody, then delivers a solo full of impeccable bop phrasing punctuated with growls, outlandish gibberish, and mic-distorting effects. Changing gears, the group moves on with "Safe In My Arms," a love ballad; "Jonathan Max," an up-tempo waltz dedicated to a newborn child; "Lost Love," an ode to heartbreak; and "Only Love," an R&B-tinged number that Stevens jokingly introduces as "the ladies’ choice." To close the set Griffith takes center stage for "Losing Streak," a slow, blues-based ditty with a priceless lyric: "You’re on a losing streak/ your shit’s about to freak." Griffith facilitates some hilarious audience participation, goading the house to repeat his wacked-out ad libs note for note, shriek for shriek.
Stevens and Griffith are perfect foils for one another: the leader’s deadpan stage demeanor is funny in its own right, but it’s even funnier next to Griffith’s over-the-top antics. The only risk is that some might find Griffith hard to take seriously on the sadder numbers. But that aside, Stevens has hit upon a winning combination that ought to get wider exposure.


Shop

More Articles

Read Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's Live Reviews Kneebody at Johnny Brenda's
by Mike Jacobs
Published: April 25, 2017
Read Vossajazz 2017 Live Reviews Vossajazz 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 23, 2017
Read Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ Live Reviews Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights Live Reviews Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 18, 2017
Read Tallinn Music Week 2017 Live Reviews Tallinn Music Week 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: April 16, 2017
Read Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017
by Francesco Martinelli
Published: April 14, 2017
Read "Flow Tribe at the Gramercy Theatre" Live Reviews Flow Tribe at the Gramercy Theatre
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: June 4, 2016
Read "Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens" Live Reviews Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens
by Geno Thackara
Published: February 15, 2017
Read "The Zombies at NYCB Theatre at Westbury" Live Reviews The Zombies at NYCB Theatre at Westbury
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: June 4, 2016
Read "Andy Milne and Dapp Theory at SOUTH Jazz Kitchen" Live Reviews Andy Milne and Dapp Theory at SOUTH Jazz Kitchen
by Mike Jacobs
Published: May 19, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!