Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dayna Stephens review - NYC Jazz Record

Young tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens has been
dogged by health issues lately. While waiting for a
kidney donation, he continues a rigorous schedule of
dialysis but his newest album is filled with strength
and vitality. Recorded over a single day last October,
Stephens managed to compile ten confident
performances with a stellar band.

Stephens sticks mostly to the seize-the-day
direction but he starts the album off with a confident
swing through Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”. His
languid take on the melody floats over the driving
rhythm section of pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Kiyoshi
Kitagawa and drummer Donald Edwards.
After that masterful display, a majority of the
focus is on Stephens’ pen. The swinging “Kwooked
Stweet” places the leader in tight harmony with
trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, Stephens putting his
guttural honk to use, digging in over Edwards’
persistent cymbal. “Radio-active Earworm” is
supplemented by the addition of Raffi Garabedian.
The two tenor saxophones blend in close harmony on
held-out tones while Parks takes an equally spacious
solo. Guitarist Julian Lage is added to the troupe for
Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus”, taken as a gentle
waltz with Rodriguez returning on flugelhorn. The band 
digs into the Parks-enabled ‘70s vibe, neither rushing nor dragging
the tune, as Lage takes a brief but spidery solo.
Parks makes a couple of compositional
contributions that bring out the beast in Stephens.
“Hard-boiled Wonderland” gets a rich tenor solo over
the pulsating rhythm section while album closer
“Cartoon Element” is equally bright. Stephens and
Parks dip and dive in formation on the melody before
the tune turns into a tug of war between Stephens’
splattering phrases and the rumbling rhythm section.
The resulting hour plus is an inspiring collection
of performances that rise above Stephens’ health
hurdles and present a powerful band rolling through a
well-rehearsed set. Here’s to many more tomorrows.

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