"Over the past twenty years and the course of twelve CD’s, the Fonda/Stevens Group has evolved into one of Jazz/improvised music’s most accomplished ensembles. Straddling the line between post-bob and free, they have come up with consistently satisfying albums."
2012 - 2013
20 YEAR ANNIVERSARY TOUR!!!!!!!!
With over 20 years of performing together in various ensembles, this powerful acoustic NYC based jazz ensemble features the music of bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens performing with master percussionist Harvey Sorgen and the brillliant modern jazz trumpet legend Herb Robertson.
The group has performed over 25 European tours in the past 15 years (!997 - 2012) including radio broadcasts for BRTN (Belgium), Saarbrucken Radio (Germany), WDR Radio Koln (Germany), Radio Bremen (Germany), Radio Zurich (Switzerland), Radio Nurnberg (Germany) VPRO Radio Amsterdam (Holland) and has been featured artist at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival (Canada), Halo Jazz Days (Brugge, Belgium), Jazzmeille Thuringen (Weimer, Germany), Jazzkroe Gent (Belgium), Westfalisches Musikfest 1998 (Munster Germany), Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI) the Cerkno Jazz Festival (Slovenia 2007), the Jazz Goes to Town Festival in the Czech Republic (2008) and most recently the "Are You Free" Jazz Festival (Slovakia) and the Sibiu Jazz Festival (Romania).
Pianist and co-leader Michael Jefry Stevens has performed and/or recorded with Dave Douglas, Mark Feldman, Gerry Hemingway, Miles Griffith, Billy Martin (Martin-Medeski-Wood), Pheeroan Aklaff, Leo Wadada Smith, Steve Turre, Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponamerev, Potato Valdez, Thomas Chapin and Dominic Duval. His most recent CD releases include "Joyce Cobb" on Archer Records and "Only Love" with the Griffith/Stevens Quartet on ARC Records. He has composed over 300 works for various musical ensembles and was a recent fellow at the Macdowell Artist Colony in Peterborough, NH and Centrum Arts in Port Townsend, WA.
Bassist and co-leader Joe Fonda has developed an extensive international reputation over the last several years recording and touring with the world-reknowned Anthony Braxton including performances at some of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals including the North Sea Jazz Festival and the Istanbul International Jazz Festival. He is also featured bassist on numerous recordings with Mr. Braxton including the famed Charlie Parker Project Recordings as well as the piano quartet recordings with Braxton on piano. Mr. Fonda has performed with such notable musicians as Ken McIntyre, Charlie Persip, Lou Donaldson, Perry Robinson, Kenny Barron, Leo Smith, Curtis Fuller, Chico Hamilton and others. He is co-leader of the critically acclaimed FAB trio which features Barry Altschul on drums and Billy Bang on violin.
Master Drummer Harvey Sorgen has performed and/or recorded with Anthony Braxton, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Weir, Dave Douglas, David Sancious, John Stubblefield, Carter Jefferson, Karl Berger, David Torn, Ahmad Jamal, Los Lobos, Dry Jack, Art Lande, Roswell Rudd, NRBQ, the Mallards and Bill Frisell amongst many others. He was a member of "Hot Tuna" for over a decade and is featured on many of their most important recordings. A partial list of album credits include; The Arc Quartet, Outlet, the Mosaic Sextet, NRBQ, Sorgen-Rust-Stevens Trio and recently "Aercine" on Drimala Records. His first instructional video, "Drumming Made Easy" is available worldwide from Homespun Tapes Ltd.
Herb Robertson is internationally renowned as one of the most innovative trumpet/brass improvisors of the 20th Century. In 1981, Robertson became one of the original members of Tim Berne’s ensemble and shortly after joined Mark Helias’ band. It is with these two artists that Robertson first began receiving enormous critical acclaim. Mr. Robertson has recorded five albums under his own name and has appearedwith such artists as Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, John Zorn, Bobby Previte, Charlie Haden Music Liberation
Joe Fonda - Bass
Michael Jefry Stevens - Piano
The Fonda/Stevens Group "The Wish"
Music and Arts 1996
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Parallel Lines"
Music and Arts 1997
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Live from Brugge"
DeWerf Records 1997
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Evolution"
Leo Records 1998
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Live at the Bunker"
Leo Records 2000
The Fonda/Stevens Group "The Healing"
Leo Records 2002
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Twelve Improvisations"
Leo Records 2004
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Forever Real"
482 Music 2005
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Live at Alte Paketpost"
FSG Productions 2005
The Fonda/Stevens Group "TRIO"
Nottwo Records 2007
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Memphis"
PlayScape Records 2009
The Fonda/Stevens Group "Trio + 2)
Nottwo Records - 2011
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Fonda/Stevens Group Forever Real (482 Music) by Ryan McDermott 2 May 2005 Simply put, the...Fonda/Stevens Group
by Ryan McDermott
2 May 2005
Simply put, the Fonda/Stevens Group is one of the finest and most underrated post-bop groups around. If you want to talk about innovation, tight musicianship, and near stellar interplay (all of the most important things in putting together a group) then you have to mention the group on Forever Real, Fonda and Stevens’ latest effort. The album, which includes Michael Jefry Stevens on keys, Joe Fonda on bass, Herb Robertson on trumpet, Harvey Sorgen on drums, and special guest Napoleon Maddox on human beat box and poetry, has flashes of everything from Ramsey-Lewis style funk to reminiscence of Anthony Braxton.
Together since their days in the Mosaic Sextet, Stevens, Fonda, and Sorgen take their intense musical relationship to the next level on this, their eighth album. The title is appropriate since these guys are one of the truest groups in modern jazz, blending all elements from the most traditional to the most free. All seven tunes are Fonda/Stevens composed, keeping with the tradition of what they have been doing for years whilst still breaking some new ground. The group’s constant experimentation with time signatures can be heard most overtly in “The Call”, a bluesy piece driven by freeform movements and subtle but pushing trumpet of Robertson.
“Cotton”, probably the hippest cut on the record, is the only one to feature guest beat boxer and poet Maddox of the Cincinnati hip-hop group Is What?! Behind front piano and drumming and atonal trumpet, Maddox can be heart dropping ridiculous hi-hat and bass drum sounding beats, playing extremely well with drummer Sorgen. Halfway through the cut Maddox starts waxing poetic about his sociopolitical beliefs and it is wonderful. He speaks his mind about the state of youth and the things that make material items worth more today than nonmaterial ones. Shouting like a modern day beat poet behind a supped up 50s free jazz quartet, I was left wishing that Maddox had been featured more prominently on this record.
The other tracks on the album speak for themselves. From the haunting, piano-driven “A Question of Love” to the upbeat rap of “From the Source”, the record is easily one of the most solid records of 2005 so far. There isn’t a bad cut on the album. Just take in all the myriad styles the Fonda/Stevens Group has to offer and hope that other groups can come close to how consistent they are with their near-perfection and intensity.
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Forever Real The Fonda/Stevens Group | 482 Music By Dennis Hollingsworth John Cage said that...Forever Real
The Fonda/Stevens Group |
By Dennis Hollingsworth
John Cage said that music is all around us, ever present in the universe. Yet we do not always have the ”ears” to decipher it. Forever Real offers the opportunity to exercise your “ears,” presenting you with unique sounds that ebb and flow like the tide.
This effort is the eighth recording from the Fonda/Stevens Group. Largely unknown here in the US, the group is well recognized in Europe, certainly unfortunate as it deserves recognition. Bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens have played together in a variety of settings, notably with Dave Douglas in the early '90s. For more than a decade, with the addition of drummer Harvey Sorgen, this group has been a rare commodity, keeping a consistent foundation with longevity. Few working bands can boast such continuity given the inherent financial and logistical realities.
All of the compositions on this disc belong to either Fonda or Stevens. Stylistic categories are simply too confining for this ensemble's inventive originality. There is a running dialogue between all members during each song, with free flowing interplay and technically adept design. Those considering spectatorship should be aware that the music requires participation, not unlike reading a serious novel. This is not background music. Take some quiet time, pay attention, and you will be fully rewarded.
Herb Robertson uses all the sounds available from his trumpet, summoning memories of Lester Bowie, always a welcome happenstance. Breaths, grunts, pops, and bellows augment his use of traditional tones. Throughout the disc, Fonda provides necessary support with strong soloing. Sorgen is particularly impressive. The fact that he also plays with the band Hot Tuna exemplifies his versatility. The inclusion of Maddox adds intrigue in spots, particularly his striking poetic uttering on “Cotton.” After listening to this, you too will want to know what cotton is!
“The Stalker” is a mosaic capsule of what makes these guys special. Starting with a piano vamp, bowed bass, trumpet musings, and churning drum patterns, the tune unfolds and expands into unexpected territory. Melody is there, but subtly presented. Stevens leads the way with a solo full of block chords, melodic twists and harmonic questions. Robertson's explorations lead to a fleeting display from Sorgen played with controlled fire. Robertson brings the quartet back and the tune slowly dissolves. Nice!
Bands as dynamic as this present a solid test of engineering skill. In that regard Jonathan Townes warrants mention, as the recording quality is first rate. Each player is properly placed in the soundstage. Microphone choices and placement capture the particular qualities of each instrument. Piano and snare drum, not easily recreated, are superb. Cymbals are also present and distinctive.
This disc would be a welcome experience for any jazz fan. But it is well suited to those who prefer 21st century harmonies and a multicolored palette. These men play very well and I am grateful for the opportunity to comment. Heartily recommended.
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Forever Real The Fonda/Stevens Group | 482 Music By John Kelman Since emerging on the scene ...Forever Real
The Fonda/Stevens Group |
By John Kelman
Since emerging on the scene in the late ‘80s with trumpeter Dave Douglas and the Mosaic Sextet, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummer Harvey Sorgen have all worked in a variety of contexts. Fonda was Anthony Braxton’s bassist of choice in the mid-‘90s; Stevens has worked in trios with Mark Whitecage and Dominic Duval; Sorgen has been involved with everything from free jazz to the blues/roots group Hot Tuna. But it’s within the context of the longstanding Fonda/Stevens Group that their musical personalities have been at their most compelling.
With five previous releases as either a quartet and quintet, it’s trumpeter Herb Robertson who has been the closest thing to a constant fourth member, having been on most of the group’s recordings, including ‘02’s outstanding The Healing. With Forever Real, the quartet of Fonda, Stevens, Sorgen, and Robertson continue to mine territory that defies categorization. While the seven compositions by Fonda and Stevens live, without a doubt, in more liberated improvisational territory, what gives them a stronger sense of purpose is their compositional scope. Stevens’ “The Stalker,” for example, revolves around a pseudo-Latin groove that is thematically reminiscent of Don Byron’s “Next Love” from Tuskegee Experiments, but with a lighter yet no less substantive complexion.
Fonda’s “Relentlessness,” on the other hand, with its initially-persistent bass ostinato, is more idiosyncratic, with an odd theme that transcends restrictive bar lines. The tune eventually dissolves into a free improvisation by Fonda that resolves into an even quirkier and less rhythmically-straightforward construct over which a collective improvisation concludes. Stevens is, as a rule, the more structured and accessible composer, with Fonda’s writing more about not-so-simple ideas as a basis for exploratory work by all involved. Stevens’ “A Question of Love” begins with a free piano solo but ultimately finds its way into a gentler space. Fonda’s “Cotton,” on the other hand, centres on a more obfuscated theme that merely serves as a basis for the group’s more abstruse leanings; although the piece actually finds its way into an almost funky groove that serves as a feature for guest Napoleon Maddox’s “Human Beat Box” sounds and stream-of-consciousness poetry.
Everyone demonstrates a fine ability to skirt the edges of convention, while at the same time stretching its boundaries. Most notable is Robertson, who manages to imbue the compositions with an askew sense of humour, preventing things from becoming too serious. Coaxing a surprising variety of textures from his horn, Robertson is a fiercely original player whose refusal to compromise has made him trumpeter of choice on a surprisingly large number of recordings—over seventy to date.
Curiously and consistently overlooked in North America, the Fonda/Stevens Group, thankfully, enjoys a solid reputation in Europe that permits the group to continue. And with Forever Real, it manages to combine heady composition with more visceral improvisation, making this a potent and highly recommended release for those who enjoy their free music with a little more form.
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Forever Real Fonda/Stevens Group | 482 Music By Glenn Astarita These days, there are few moder...Forever Real
Fonda/Stevens Group | 482 Music
By Glenn Astarita
These days, there are few modern jazz groups which can seamlessly merge elements of free improvisation with mainstream and post-bop stylizations, while still maintaining a signature group sound. The Fonda/Stevens Group is partly about the sum of its parts, where the respective musicians emerge as stylists by honing a group-based methodology that stands on its own. A portion of this outing features trumpeter Herb Robertson’s warm lower-register voicings via sub-theme dialogues with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens. They methodically intermingle quaint melodies with lightly swirling choruses amid shrewdly concocted alterations in pitch and meter. Occasionally, Stevens establishes simple ostinatos to be expounded upon by his bandmates. Yet the band is apt to turn up the heat via ballsy exchanges and glistening crescendos.
The quartet playfully dissects a blues groove with freeform movements and odd time signatures during “The Call.” They convey additional diversity on a Ramsey Lewis-style funk motif on the final cut, “Cotton,” where guest artist Napoleon Maddox adds some sociopolitical rap atop the ensemble’s loose gait. Overall, the unit’s latest effort should be well-received by its legion of followers. Sure enough, it’s a tastefully executed and indubitably entertaining studio date.
Joe Fonda "Forever Real"
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By Robert Iannapollo Talk to bassist Joe Fonda for even a short time and you get caught in the w...By Robert Iannapollo
Talk to bassist Joe Fonda for even a short time and you get caught in the whirlwind. Conversation flows easily from one topic to another: from Anthony Braxton to Duke Ellington to Marvin Gaye or from Paul Wolfowitz to the best wine that goes with salmon. Fonda’s one of those incessantly curious people who seems to want to know about everything. "Nuclear Joe is what I call him," says trumpeter Herb Robertson, his bandmate in the Fonda/Stevens Group.
Fonda tackles his musical projects with the same wide-ranging enthusiasm. The Nu Band, a group with Mark Whitecage, Roy Campbell and Lou Grassi, has released The Nu Band On Tour (Konnex) and is touring Europe. Conference Call, a group with Gebhard Ullmann, Michael Jefry Stevens and George Schuller, has a tour of Portugal in March and a new release on 482 Music. The FAB Trio, with jazz legends violinist Billy Bang and drummer Barry Altschul, is lining up a small American tour in the spring. The documentation of Joe’s ongoing work with Xu Fengxia, a master of the traditional Chinese stringed instrument, the guzheng, continues with a new recording (the superb Separate Realities on the Belgian W.E.R.F. label) as a trio with Dutch saxophonist Andre Goudbeek. The duo will be at the Guelph Festival this fall. We can’t leave out his recent work in both a duo and with a trio behind singer Katie Bull, one of the few of the new crop of jazz singers who matter.
But the project that Fonda tends to be most effusive about and that seems to be closest to his heart is the Fonda/Stevens Group, a band he’s co-led with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens for 12 years. "It’s amazing, we’ve been able to share the bill 50/50 and run a band for 12 years and still keep it happening. And there aren’t many people that can do that." Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that for a band that’s put out consistently good records (their eighth release, Forever Real on 482 Music, is due shortly) and regularly tours Europe (15 tours in the last 8 years according to Stevens) it’s probably least-known in their homeland. As Robertson says, "We’re probably the most unheard American band in America."
The band rose out of the ashes of two groups in 1992. "Joe and myself were members of two bands, the Mosaic Sextet and Mark Whitecage’s Liquid Time band. Dave Douglas [trumpeter in both bands] decided he wanted to go out on his own. That was around ‘91. It took another year and Joe and I had been playing and rehearsing together and we decided to start another band. We wanted a band to explore our compositions. I think you get comfortable with people you know and like. We had a good time in all the other bands so we decided to co-lead this one."
"Most cats are leaders and they run a band. But not too many people can co-run a band and make it last."
Which, to those familiar with the two leaders, might raise some eyebrows. The two are like night and day or perhaps more accurately like Laurel & Hardy, two opposed characters who complement each other perfectly. Fonda assesses it like this: "Michael is like Mr. Organized. I’m more like Mr. Idea Man. We balance each other out in that sense but it also means we bump heads a lot. It’s a lot of give and take._ Stevens describes the relationship in his characteristic deadpan manner, "I’m tall, he’s short." Asked to elaborate, "He’s very vivacious and I’m very reserved. I can be kind of shy and like to be alone and he likes to be around people. But it seems to work."
Musically, the two, while not opposites have very different approaches. "Michael is a songwriter. I’m into structure and concepts. My first approach to a piece is rhythmic. Michael is a true piano player. Harmony is the most important thing to him. Me, I don’t get to harmony until the last part. Michael once said about my pieces, ‘Joe’s an architect.’"
According to Stevens, "I’m a romantic and he’s more of an experimenter. My music is all about melody, harmony and Joe’s is more conceptual. I think he learned a lot from Braxton. I’m trying to create things that are beautiful and that’s not what Joe’s trying to do. He’s trying to do things that are interesting and make you think." But rather than sounding like two different bands, Fonda/Stevens Group’s music seems to spring from one well.
This poses interesting strategies for the band’s other two members. Drummer Harvey Sorgen sees it like this, "That’s why I really dig playing in this band. They’re such different characters, players and composers. The way I’ve approached the material over the years is to try to push Michael’s music out a bit and maybe pull Joe’s music in a little bit. It becomes more of a cohesive statement by the band as opposed to this is a ‘Michael Stevens’ song and this is a ‘Joe Fonda’ song. So they’re not radically different from each other. And over the years, the way they’ve each written material for the band and the way the band’s played the material…it’s gotten more…I don’t want to use the word ‘coherent’ but more ‘intertwined’."
Their forthcoming release, Forever Real explores that same dichotomy inherent in Fonda’s and Stevens’ compositions. It also continues the group’s penchant for throwing the listener a curve. In the past they’ve had guest members with the group (e.g. saxophonist Daunik Lazro) and abandoned the composition format entirely for one album, 12 Improvisations. On Forever Real, they have Cincinnati-based hiphop artist Napoleon Maddox guesting on two tracks. It was Fonda’s idea: "You know for me I’ve never been into separating music. For me it’s always been part of the same continuum. I’ve always been able to hear it. You know, I can listen to Mozart or Stockhausen and it’s always made sense. That’s just the way I’ve always been. Personally, I think that’s the way it should be. I’ve never thought about separating it. Why would you want to?"
It’s that type of receptiveness that makes this band such a winning proposition. And its that type of openness among all four members but especially between the leaders that’s made Fonda/Stevens a band that has lasted. Fonda sums it up, "We’re so different and we’ve all bumped heads from time to time but we’ve kept it together and shared the responsibility. I don’t know, maybe it’s just some kind of spiritual thing that we can do that. Most cats are leaders and they run a band. But not too many people can co-run a band and make it last."
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THE FONDA/STEVENS GROUP Twelve improvisations Leo Records CD LR 394 review by Ken Waxman A te...THE FONDA/STEVENS GROUP
CD LR 394 review by Ken Waxman
A team for over 20 years, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda do this by not only insisting that all the sounds on their CD be completely improvised, but by adding another voice to the line-up. French alto and baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro is one of that country's foremost experimenters, working in contexts as varied as solo recitals and bands with saxophonist Michel Doneda and Joe McPhee. Here his unique articulation and sound sources add another dimension to that supplied by the pianist, bassist, long-time drummer Harvey Sorgen, and endlessly inventive trumpeter Herb Robertson, who has worked with Fonda and Stevens in various bands, on-and-off for more than a decade.
At home or abroad, the power of improvised music means that you can be celebratory even in the midst of sorrow.
Alive with a dozen improvisations Fonda, Stevens and crew have more scope in which to exhibit their talents. Additionally, while these may be TWELVE IMPROVISATIONS, they're definitely not 12 pieces of indulged abstraction. Veterans, each member of the quintet knows what he can do, and gets enough space to do it within a group context.
Take, "Distant Voices," at almost 91/2-minutes the longest track. Here modulated stick pressure and knuckle duster rolls from Sorgen lead into ponticello bowing from Fonda and the continuous spew of accented timbres from Robertson. As Lazro adds harmonic color, the trumpeter's lines get more expressive and legato. Soon the brassman is chromatically severing single notes as Stevens accompanies him with church-like low frequency chords. Lazro, now on baritone, smoothly resonates underneath, as Robertson decorates the line with stairstep obbligatos.
The Frenchman's bari can squeal as well as snort as he demonstrates on "Talking Drum", most of which is taken up by Sorgen doing just that. Lazro double tongues searing altissimo squeaks that are later amplified by Robertson's quivering valves. Meanwhile the percussionist resonates, rattles and rolls as if he was playing a bata or a darbuka, using his palms, fingers and palms more than his sticks.
Robertson and he exhibit classic teamwork between brassy triplets and pardiddles and flams on the aptly named "Call and Response". Throughout the CD, the trumpeter seems to be functioning at a level even higher than in years past, having finally exchanged European expatriate life for the United States.
Two example of this are "Extracurricular Activity" and "The Meeting". The former finds Stevens' high frequency, circular piano accents succeeded by split-second, tongue stopping blasts from Lazro and exaggerated wah-wah blowing from Robertson in Clyde McCoy mode.
More serious, the latter sets up a series of meetings among the group members. Concerned with cascading chords and right-handed plinking, Stevens pushing broken note patterns into a swinging centre meets rumbles, glances and bounces from Sorgen. Then Harmon-muted tones from Robertson meet sharp slurs from Lazro's alto, As the trumpeter maintains his feathery timbres, staying concise and concentrated, Lazro moves to split tones and lip vibrations.
Sometimes the sounds move far beyond the expected. Arco bass lines and pronged internal piano string constraint on "In the Distance" are succeeded by what could be electro-acoustic oscillation and distortion mated with buzzing brass tones. As Fonda cushions everyone with arco bustles both high-pitched and lower, Lazro adds altissimo flutter tonguing. Finally the resolution appears in Stevens rubbing the internal piano strings with a light, cylindrical object as Robertson continues twittering short phrases on his own, as if he was a homeless person mumbling to himself.
Improvisations also include variations on jazz's bedrock, with "Front and Center" a finger snapping blues piano showcase, complete with rolling drumbeats and walking bass. Andante, Stevens reveals his inner Red Garland and Fonda displays a bass line that would do Milt Hinton proud. Only at the very end does Lazro contribute dissonant split tones and irregular vibrated slurs and cries.
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Splendid reviews July 5/2004 The Fonda/Stevens Group Twelve Improvisations Leo Records The F...Splendid reviews July 5/2004
The Fonda/Stevens Group
The Fonda/Stevens group, co-led by bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, usually record in a quartet format, with drummer Harvey Sorgen and trumpeter Herb Robertson. This time, the addition of alto and baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro makes for a rousing quintet date. Twelve Improvisations may be more "In" than some avant-jazz that Leo records, but it is still plenty challenging and filled with musical rewards.
In just four minutes, "Ostrich" encapsulates both the lyrical and aggressive sides to the group's playing. An edgy opening, filled with questing free jazz colloquoy, is followed by a more ruminative slow section, rife with bent notes from both Lazro and Robertson and punctuated by Sorgen's heavy fills.
"Electricity" features some truly inspired playing from Stevens, encompassing both intricate polytonal progressions and noise-based free play in the same piece without the juxtaposition proving curious. Robertson has a singular style too, often simmering edgily beneath the music's surface, only to leap violently into the foreground at strategic points in the piece.
"In the Distance" features mysterious and supple arco playing from Fonda, who creates a whole range of extended technique-filled sounds. He is abetted by Stevens's ruminative treble solos, accumulating dissonances in a flurry of activity. "Talking Drum", predictably, is a showcase for Sorgen's multi-limbed polyrhythms; while he uses a drum set instead an actual talking drum, his playing remains most communicative, entering into a dialogue with a soaring, stentorian line from Robertson.
Lazro is an exciting soloist. His playing on "Front and Center" covers the saxophone's entire range, from shrieking caterwauls to fleet arpeggiations. Robertson matches him squall for squall, while Sorgen engages in some soloist punctuations of his own. Stevens's playing remains ever-versatile, alternating between comping changes and fistfuls of chromatic clusters.
Improvisations like this are born out of a special musical rapport between musicians who really listen and react well to each other. Whether in a quartet or quintet line-up, the Fonda/Stevens Group engage in a musical ESP that is wonderful to behold.
-- Christian Carey
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Fonda / Stevens Group Twelve Improvisations (Leo Records) by David Dupont 29 October 2004 I...Fonda / Stevens Group
by David Dupont
29 October 2004
I've always associated the Fonda/Stevens Group with sprawling spontaneous compositions that could veer from righteous free jazz squalling to ironic renderings of maudlin folk tunes. One of the most enjoyable concerts I saw last year was the quartet (Joe Fonda, bass, Michael Jefry Stevens, piano, Herb Robertson, trumpet and Harvey Sorgen, drums) at Edgefest in Ann Arbor, MI. I had my elder teenage son with me and, though no fan of free jazz, he was entranced by watching them fashion a symphony for four right before his eyes and ears.
On Twelve Improvisations Daunik Lazro on alto and baritone saxophones joins that quartet for a series of impromptu etudes. The group's usual melodic predilections are most evident on "Electricity", where Stevens plays rhapsodic piano punctuated by jabs into the bass register. Sorgen's tom-tom tattoo urges the pianist to develop long, swirling runs. Robertson then adds a longing line against Lazro's strangled saxophone runs. Most of the improvisations' focus is the extended techniques that inform the group's usual work, though serving as just part of their musical arsenal. On "In the Distance", Fonda and Lazro's ventures into the upper register, paired with Stevens' ventures inside his piano, sound like electronic distortion. On "Dante's Inferno", Robertson and Lazro reach down to plumb the deepest parts of their horns.
Not that the band forgets to swing: The piano trio track "Front and Center" swings easily and freely. Robertson develops an intense ballad statement over the first 7:30 of "Distant Voices", and the ensemble winds down the track with a loping medium ballad groove. Interestingly, Lazro has no part on "Front" and is a minimal presence on "Distant". He tends to drive the proceedings outward. "Bariphonics" has him all alone, at his most introspective with 1:45 over breathy, overblown baritone saxophone. This track gives a sample of the element he brings to the session that helps shape it into a fascinating addition to the Fonda/Stevens discography.
Live at the Bunker
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Jazz Weekly FONDA-STEVENS GROUP Live at the Bunker Leo Records LR 301 Man, it’s hard to be...Jazz Weekly
Live at the Bunker
Man, it’s hard to believe that Leo’s up to the 300s already, and with an amazingly consistent track record, as has the group here. “For Us” sounds like a standard, and it should be. Starting with a Messiaen-like fluttery piano intro, follwed by romantic chords, a strong bass line and Smoker smartly skittering into the verge of off-key, this ballad grips immediately and sustains. There’s an awkward applause fade. In a different manner, they continue with “Borrowed Time,” a free improv which turns into what seems composed, each phrase tauntingly repeated or mutated by the next. This kind of call and response, using lots of space, teases the way lovers do when they know just how to touch each other, and just when to... pull back.
“Don’t Go Baby,” by contrast with the opening pair, is merely good. “Circle” continues that way, but a few minutes in they hit a stride: Stevens arpeggiating and Fonda walking askew, and hear Smoker go off on his fierce free thing. The head returns, and I wish it were all so free, but I have no complaints about the trip, especially as Sorgen takes an expected solo, again using space, changes of pace and texture, to make your ears sit up. At first I thought it a bowed cymbal, but Fonda plays a resiny, itchy sequence at the bottom of the bridge, until they take it again to the head.
“Circle,” too, starts off just okay, but they hit a powerful mood shortly, with strong intermingling of lines by the smoldering wah-wah and humanoid voice of Smoker’s trumpet, and the scratch of Fonda’s bass. It and the following two tracks, if you don’t watch the CD counter, are a seamless suite of wonderful jazz and improvisation. (I’ve misfiled my copy of their Leo disc “Haiku,” so I can’t make comparisons.) “Oh Lord...” opens with Smoker playing a gospel dirge, underlined by bass. Stevens’ piano brings a romantic rush of cold air chords in, again with gospelized arpeggios, and Sorgen plays free, both loose and tight: brushes, cymbals and kick. Again, I find the playing and the structure stronger than the writing, especially when a trite piano vamp changes the rhythm, and despite Smoker’s wild wind, hearing these guys sing “Oh Lordy...” makes me cringe. Stevens piano turns admirably Pullenesque, and the deep sonics of the bass and Sorgen’s percussive richness (you can hear the air pressure inside them change with each blow) give you chills. The recording quality is superb, with the piano sounding like a piano, and the Fonda’s various timbres revealed.
What is always special to me about Fonda and Stevens is that not only do they “play,” but they infuse it with such joie de vive that you just want to throw their other discs in the machine in turn. As an encore, I played another Fonda reach-to-the-roots, “Down To The Delta,” my favorite track on Live at Brugge on De Werf Records, which gets frequent play in this house. For a special treat, dig Fonda’s 1999 solo bass disc When It's Time on the Belgian label Jazz’Halo.
Live At the Bunker
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The Fonda-Stevens Group "Live At The Bunker" (Leo Records) "The Fonda-Stevens Group" is arguably ...The Fonda-Stevens Group "Live At The Bunker" (Leo Records)
"The Fonda-Stevens Group" is arguably one of the finest and hardest working modern jazz outfits in the business. And while "Leo Records" is synonymous with producing improvised, free - jazz and music that is largely unclassifiable, the label generally skirts the bleeding edge of what some refer to as - new music. Therefore, this quartet's new recording titled,Live At The Bunkermarks a slight yet welcome shift in strategy for this legendary UK-based label.
The quartet opens this set with soulful balladry on the piece titled, "For Us" as trumpeter Paul Smoker exudes heartfelt lines in conjunction with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens' velvety undercurrents. However, the musicians pull a 360 degree turnaround on the second track, "Borrowed Time" which is marked by Smoker's genial muted trumpet lines, linearly performed unison choruses, engaging call and response improv and a brief swing motif. On this piece, the band prominently exhibits the virtues of being in synch, as there is little margin for error amid these odd-metered rhythms, cleverly constructed themes and intricately executed passages. Yet the band also excels at integrating a loose vibe which affords the soloists ample breathing room for reinventing the compositional subject matter.
Bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen anchor the intense momentum for the soloist's climactic choruses and catchy melodies on "Don't Go Baby", whereas the quartet finalizes the brisk proceedings with the gospel induced "Oh, Lord, It's Nice To Sit On Your Porch Today". Here, the band pursues crashing cadenzas along with Stevens' lush interludes and Smoker's deviously constructed yet altogether playful lead soloing. Without further ado,Live At The Bunkeris a magnificent release and a late entry into this writer's hypothetical top ten list for 2000. Folks, modern jazz doesn't get much better than this! - Glenn Astarita
The Quartet's normal concert performance involves 2 sets of approximately one hour each in length. Each set will usually contain 4 to 5 original compositions by either of the co-leaders (Michael J. Stevens or Joe Fonda).
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