Here is an interesting collection of songs recorded by singer Joyce Cobb with the Michael Jefry Stevens Trio, which includes Jonathan Wires and Renardo Ward. The self-titled CD (Music Arts/Archer) is an album with a lot of bop and swing, mixing up jazz with some down home blues that will make you feel good. At times the power of Cobb’s voice seems to lose intensity as the album goes on, I’m not sure if it’s what I’m hearing or if I was losing interest. She’s not boring, but she’s not something I would want to listen to for a full album either. That can’t be said for Stevens, whose work I have been impressed with over the years and to be honest, this would have worked perfectly as an instrumental album with two vocalized songs thrown in for fun.
If you like Stevens, get this. If you love a good jazz/blues singer with compassion and warmth, you might find Cobb to be your chanteuse.
Six (Konnex) is the sixth album Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), Jeff “Siege” Siegel (drums), and Tim Ferguson (bass) have recorded together as a 3-piece unit, even though they have done many other projects together in some combination for years. I know when I see any of their names, it’s in my mind a musical event, and together it means “stop what I’m doing, it’s time to listen to fantastic musicianship.”
As with previous albums together, they mix in their original songs along with classic jazz gems, in this case we have Thelonious Monk‘s “Straight No Chaser”, and the pop standard “It’s Only A Paper Moon” (made famous by, among many, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole). I think what I like the most about these three is the anticipation one has for their playing individually and as a unit, as if you’re friends of theirs and you’re encouraging them to a school yard battle. You don’t want to see them fight, but this battle is a must. You don’t care about who gets hurt, it’s about the goal of winning, and these three play as if there’s no tomorrow, but with such a spirit and dedication to jazz that you want to know when they’ll record or perform next. Think of any master of jazz, be it Phil Woods, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Jack DeJohnette, or anyone, and you hear the echoes of them in Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson, whose reverberations on this album will soon be heard in the next generations of jazz to come.
This CD has been playing for so long in my CD playing units that I found myself wanting to listen to it over and over and not having to review it. But a review must be done so here it is.
The trio of Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), Harvey Sorgen (drums), and Steve Rust (bass) was one that worked when they came into a New York studio to record A Scent In Motion(Konnex) in 1994. For whatever reason this album was kept locked for 15 years, and jazz fans will be thankful that it is now seeing the light of day. These three musicians have played in countless sessions in the last 15 years, sometimes together, other times pairing up with someone, but you always hear excellents, and they demonstrate this on this album, one that is a mixture of bursts of restless energy before falling back into something more comfortable and soothing. In a track like “Sentry” or “Camco” they’re almost fighting for jazz dominance to where it’s pretty much like free jazz, but then Stevens will play a delicate melody before playing something that sounds like cascading waterfall, as he does in “Fairy Tale”. Even when Stevens ma be playing something very bluesy, you can often hear bassist Rust try to counterplay this. It’s not all the time, but when caught, it’s obvious they’re having fun regardless of the tone the song is trying to convey.
What I also love is sensing their unspoken language, obviously these songs came after practicing the songs for awhile but there’s something in this music, something that sounds like… you can hear mental activity and it’s not just in the way they play or how it’s played. It’s just spot on, and it’s a great thing to hear, especially when done so well.
These three have recorded together a number of times, and I hope that the next one will not take another fifteen years to uncover.
Tom Giampietro (drums), Jonathan Wires (bass), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), and Dan Aliquo (saxophone) make-up the Southern Excursion Quartet, and true to their name they live and work in the South, taking in the people, the cultures, and the sounds that make that area of the United States so rich. Trading Post (Artists Recording Collective) is an album that is true to its title: a gathering place where people can meet and trade goods. In this case it’s a group of musicians who come from different places but share a love for jazz and the South, where jazz originated and still lives.
Fans of the ECM label will love the collaborative effort these four musicians express, at times it’s very freeform but they always know and reach the common goal. A perfect example of this is “Ashes”, the Andrew Hill composition where it’s as if they each know the song but have their own way of playing it. It’s not chaotic by any means, but it’s as if they have their own arrangement and take the best elements from each and contributed to the group sound. My favorite song on the album is the longest one, clocking in at a nice 14:44. “Chant 1” (it’s one of two “Chant”‘s on the album) is a somber prayer (think John Coltrane), and its’ meditative ways may bring you in to the music even more. I love how Wires and Giampietro play together, but sometimes it sounds best if you shift the perspective between Stevens and Wires, or Stevens and Giampietro, and then manage to move back (mentally) to picture what Aliquo makes of it.
Anyone who loves certain classic quartets and quintets of the 1960’s will find this a fascinating listen, not so much as a way to honor the jazz and musicians of the past, but to show how necessary that music is today.