Signal To Noise: Taylor Ho Bynum, Fonda/Stevens Group, The Fully Celebrated, Darius Jones and Joe Morris

December 14, 2009

The Winter 2010 issue of Signal To Noise arrived this weekend and with it reviews of the latest releases from Taylor Ho Bynum & SpiderMonkey Strings, the Fonda/Stevens Group, The Fully Celebrated, the Darius Jones Trio and the Joe Morris Quartet.

“Bynum’s compositions consistently engage and amplify the texts [from his sister’s novel, Madeleine is Sleeping],” writes Stuart Broomer in his review of Madeleine Dreams (Firehouse 12 Records), “and the performances are at a high level. Vocalist Kyoko Kitamura ranges from pensive dramatic readings to jazz-inflected vocals and creative improvisations, performing admirably in the divergent settings. The group’s improvisational skills come to the fore on pieces by three great composers—Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington and Sun Ra—whose works are all subtly complementary…the results are driving, focused, expressive performances that make the most of the jazz tradition.”

“After 20 years of musical partnership, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda, drummer Harvey Sorgen and trumpeter Herb Robertson have developed a rich chemistry,” declares James Hale. “On Memphis, their 11th recording, the quartet surges with energy—equal parts Stevens’ proclivity for aggresive vamps, Robertson’s slippery slalom runs, and a wrecking crew of a rhythm duo. When the mood turns somber individual members find ways of keeping the tension high, whether its Fonda’s abrasive arco on ‘For My Brother’ or the free segments that alternate with Stevens’ pretty theme on ‘Whale Majesty.'”

“Alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Django Carranza hammer away at eight slices of groove-based music that is is peppy, incisive and yes, amusing,” explains Jay Collins in his review of Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (AUM Fidelity). “The Fully Celebrated is a group that doesn’t take themselves too seriously, but the music is of high caliber and a hell of a lot of fun.”

Marc Medwin describes the Darius Jones Trio’s debut, Man’ish Boy (AUM Fidelity), as “a barn-burner from note one. Jones could not have chosen better musicians to enter into his world, with Cooper-Moore and drummer Rakalam Bob Moses enhancing every moan, cry and shriek emanating from his alto.”

Jay Collins calls the Joe Morris Quartet’s second release, Today On Earth (AUM Fidelity), “Morris at his most accessible. His tremendous single-note flurries come to bear immediately on the boppish ‘Backbone’ and the exuberantly swinging ‘Imaginary Solutions.’ The quartet’s keen melodic sense is eveident on ‘Ashes’ and the ruminative ‘Animal,’ especially in Hobbs’s earthy, gripping saxophone playing. Hobbs and Morris’s unison lines against the rhythm section’s restless activity are part of the record’s pleasures. Like Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones, Today on Earth has it all: smart compositional structures that launch tasty, unpredictable improvisations.”

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The Fonda/Stevens Group’s European Tour Begins Today

October 15, 2009
Photo by Lindsay Beyerstein

Photo by Lindsay Beyerstein

Starting tonight, The Fonda/Stevens Group will celebrate its latest release, Memphis (Playscape Recordings), with a European tour spanning two weeks and eight countries.

Details can be found here.

Co-led by bassist/composer Joe Fonda and pianist/composer Michael Jefry Stevens, who are also celebrating 25 years as collaborators in 2009, The Fonda/Stevens Group features trumpeter Herb Robertson and drummer Harvey Sorgen.


The Fonda/Stevens Group’s Memphis Released Today

September 29, 2009

Playscape Recordings officially welcomes The Fonda/Stevens Group to its roster with the September 29th release of Memphis, the eminent ensemble’s 11th recording.

Only the fourth studio release in the band’s two-decade existence, Memphis takes its name from Stevens’ composition, “Memphis Ramble”, one of ten tracks documented here for the first time following the band’s March 2008 U.S. tour.

Co-led by bassist/composer Joe Fonda and pianist/composer Michael Jefry Stevens, who celebrate the 25th anniversary of their first collaboration in 2009, The Fonda/Stevens Group also features trumpeter Herb Robertson and drummer Harvey Sorgen.

“Their quartet is a fine example of how a long established band can gel without becoming predictable, with many of its moves unforeseeable in advance,” explains AllAboutJazz.com’s Nic Jones. “This helps to keep the music fresh, but it’s the level of collective empathy that often takes it to another level…it’s clear on ‘Memphis Ramble’ that the group had reached a level of understanding in excess of even its usual working relationship.”

“The great thing about the band is its human warmth and musical openness,” writes Stef Gijssels on his popular blog, Free Jazz. “They can play AACM-like music (‘In The Whitecage’), post-bop (‘For My Brother’), blues, Stanko-esque melancholy (‘Whole Majesty’), free improvisation (‘Yes This Is It!’) and spontaneous chants (‘Memphis Ramble’)…it is fun, musically entertaining and interesting.”

The Downtown Music Gallery’s Bruce Lee Gallanter adds, “What makes this band great is that they can swing their asses off, go out, come back and stop on a dime. Their jubilant spirit is infectious. This is the one disc that makes me feel so good every time I hear it.”

The Fonda/Stevens Group will celebrate its latest record with a two-week, eight-country European tour in the second half of October. Details can be found here.


Playscape Recordings To Release The Fonda/Stevens Group’s Memphis September 29th

June 30, 2009
Photo by Lindsay Beyerstein

Photo by Lindsay Beyerstein

Playscape Recordings will officially welcome The Fonda/Stevens Group to its roster with the September 29th release of Memphis (PSR#033108), the eminent ensemble’s 11th recording. Only the fourth studio release in the band’s two-decade existence, Memphis was recorded at the end of a week-long March 2008 U.S. tour. The Fonda/Stevens Group is co-led by bassist/composer Joe Fonda and pianist/composer Michael Jefry Stevens and features trumpeter Herb Robertson and drummer Harvey Sorgen.

Memphis takes its name from Stevens’ composition, “Memphis Ramble,” one of ten tracks documented here for the first time. The subject matter of the piece, which features a spoken word section developed spontaneously during its first performance, deals with his move from Brooklyn to Memphis to be with his wife, who teaches poetry at Rhodes College. Coincidentally, it was the poetry of the city’s name that appealed to Fonda. “When Mike suggested we call the record Memphis,” he recalls, “I just liked the sound of the word —the poetry of it. And, Memphis is a musical melting pot, just like The Fonda/Stevens Group.”

Known as “one of the great and often under-appreciated jazz groups of the modern era” (Steven Loewy, All Music Guide), critics have credited the band with playing “with equal precision and passion” (Peter Margasak, JazzTimes) and “a combination of recognizable creativity and courageous new experimentation” (Christian Carey, Signal to Noise). “The quartet of Fonda, Stevens, Sorgen and Robertson continues to mine territory that defies categorization,” adds AllAboutJazz.com Managing Editor John Kelman. “Everyone demonstrates a fine ability to skirt the edges of convention, while at the same time stretching its boundaries.”

Active collaborators since 1984, when they first worked together as sidemen with saxophonist Mark Whitecage, Fonda and Stevens founded their own band after the 1990 demise of another all-star ensemble, The Mosaic Sextet. The Fonda/Stevens Group began as a quintet, and toured with some transitional personnel following Whitecage’s departure in 1999, but has operated primarily as a quartet with its four remaining original members for the past decade. Although based in America, the band found early success touring abroad and recording for European labels, and has built its longstanding reputation on the world stage. Learn more at http://www.joefonda.digitalspace.net and http://www.michaeljefrystevens.com


Fonda/Stevens Group Tonight At Roulette

March 16, 2009


Tonight at Roulette in New York, the Fonda/Stevens Group will preview music from Memphis, its forthcoming September release on Playscape Recordings.

The longstanding quartet features Joe Fonda (bass), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), Herb Robertson (trumpet) and Harvey Sorgen (drums).