Pianist Chip Stephens' self-penned liner notes to Relevancy
are both reflective and pragmatic, dissecting life, touching on the bond between parents and their children, and sussing out the meaning of relevancy in several contexts. This writing reveals a rare balance between the down-to-earth everyman's insight and the profound, so it should come as no surprise then that his playing possesses that same even-handedness.
Stephens' second album for the Capri label, Relevancy
is a trio album worth treasuring. Stephens makes good on his own words, delivering music that's "real, honest and true" but, in doing so, proving that musical reality comes in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes it can be powerful and eye-opening, as on Carla Bley
's "Syndrome"; other times it may be laced with uncertainty, as "Somewhere Before The End" demonstrates. Reality, after all, is shaded by the entire spectrum of perceptible emotional coloring, and Stephens paints with every one available at some point during this album.
Original material is scarce with only three Stephens numbers on the program, but they each make an impact. Stephens' own personalized view of the blues, "Somewhere Before The End," starts out as an enigma-of-sorts, taking shape around its piano solo. "C Hips's Blues," on the other hand, is more of a down home take on the blues vernacular, while "A Day In May" revisits memories surrounding a horrible car accident in May, 2008 that left Stephens in a coma for five days. He uses a twelve-tone row to express the gravity of the situation and tell the story of what followed this awful event.
While Stephens puts his writing on display in several places, he primarily taps into rich veins of jazz writing from yesteryear, presenting the work of pianist Bill Evans
, Rodgers and Hart, and several other notables. He visits the work of the usual suspects, but he avoids populist picks; "Like Someone In Love," in fact, is the only number on the program that tends to log a lot of miles these days, and it's still a joy to hear. He exhibits a McCoy Tyner
-esque touch on Bley's "Syndrome" and goes the other way, showing off his sensitive side on "This Funny World." In touching on Evans' work, Stephens avoids the sentimentality of which so many others tap; rather than dwell on the maudlin, he dives into an energetic "Skidoo" that proves to be a sensational end to a thrilling program, confirming Stephens' own relevancy in today's jazz world with this appropriately titled release.