Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Oliver Lake: alto saxophone; Joe Fonda: double bass; Emil Gross: drums.
New York pianist/composer/bandleader Michael Jefry Stevens has a remarkable aptitude: he moves equally well in post-bop and avant-garde genres.
His solid musicianship, deserving a wider exposure, spans for more than twenty years, not only leading projects under his own name but also as a member of creative groups, most of the times having the company of his longtime associate, Joe Fonda, a fanciful modern bassist.
Examples are The Fonda-Stevens Group, a notable quartet/quintet led by the inseparable duo, The Mosaic Sextet with the prolific trumpeter Dave Douglas, and Conference Call, a bold project featuring the German saxophonist/clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann.
The cited duo joins forces once again in the Generations Quartet, an irresistible new collective that also features the renowned saxophonist, visual artist, and poet Oliver Lake who has his name forever associated with a few mandatory albums of the improvised genre released between the 70’s and 90’s, cases of Heavy Spirits, Expandable Language, and Virtual Reality: Total Escapism.
Rounding out the group is the much younger Emil Gross, an Austrian drummer who tries to get the visibility he deserves and gain his place in the avant-jazz scene.
Flow, their vehement new album, was recorded live in Bielefeld, Germany, in October 2015.
Lake contributes with a couple of powerful originals. One of them is the opening track, “Rollin”, where Fonda holds out an intrepid bass groove to start, receiving promptly back up from Gross and Steven. The latter makes use of a clever comping, full of rich rhythmic intention, and his improvisation comes up with Latin seasoning. Still, the show belonged to Lake, who boasted his disconcerting sound and fluid phrasing peppered by occasional wild exteriorizations.
Also liberating yet distinct in terms of motion and attitude, Steven’s “Mantra #2” is a spiritual voyage suffused with clamors. It was connected through individual and collective creative moments in order to gain the expression of a healing prayer delivered with uplifting tranquility.
The hyperkinetic title track, another expeditious product from the saxophonist’s mind, displays all his intensity, vision, and expansive language. The band crafts assorted textures with articulated ideas, doing the same in Fonda’s densely ordered “Read This”, a polyphonic wallop with transitional sections and rhythmic accent patterns succeeding one after another.
Not everything here is so explosive, though, since there’s space for a dazzling ballad, “La Dirge de la Fleur”, set in motion by the classical cascades of Steven’s solo piano and enriched by Fonda’s magical improvisation.
Flow is a wholly unique venture and lives up to the hype. Each musician seems to be able to read their equal’s minds, and consequently, their moves. It’s this unstoppable communication, together with off-kilter moods and entrenched musical consistency, that makes this recording so special. We want more from the Generations Quartet in a near future.
01 – Rollin’ ► 03 – Mantra #2 ► 04 – Flow