Dayna Stephens – Gratitude
(Contagious Music CGM002. CD review by Peter Bacon)
American tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens is refreshing in his resistance to flash and fanciness. He often plays slowly, preferring to tread a reflective and soberly considered path rather than shoot helter-skelter through the chord changes and more oblique scale choices in order to impress the jazz geeks.
He also avoids that simple duality of song choice: self-composed or the well-worn jazz standards. Instead he chooses from a variety of modern composers, including Pat Metheny and Aaron Parks, The Timbre Of Gratitude being his sole writing contribution and a prime example of the effectiveness he finds in spare delivery, leaving a generous amount of space in the arrangment.
He has a Cadillac of a band in guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland.
Stephens’ tone on tenor is a thing of beauty, relatively free of vibrato, and with lovely moulding of notes. He uses the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) on Metheny’s We Had A Sister and baritone saxophone on Billy Strayhorn’s Isfahan.
Emilie, by film composer Olivier Manchon is the opener, Stephens deadpan lyrical over gracefully bobbing support from Mehldau, giving the piece the slow build until the band is cooking in the coda which is a back and forth between saxophonist and pianist.
Aaron Parks’s In A Garden suits Stephens’ way of working perfectly. It has a strong melody but not an overly “jazzy” one and the less-is-more tenor phrasing over Lage’s guitar leads nicely into a Grenadier solo strong on melodic hooks.
Lage’s writing contribution, Woodside Waltz – the title says a lot – gives the band another angle into this light-stepping yet deep-stretching music, with Mehldau in his country-jazz element. Each track, has its own character and there is not an also-ran among them.
An album I have listened to nearly every day for a month and of which I have grown deeply fond.