John Stevens

Mutual Benefit

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Drummer John Stevens is an enigma: a sophisticated and deeply literary composer, Stevens nonetheless relies heavily on group improvisation to attain his musical realizations. This set was recorded with John Corbett on trumpet; the three-guitar team of Tim Stone, David Cole, and Nigel Moyse; Jeff Young on bass and organ; Nick Stevens on bass; and Ron Herman on double bass. Stevens' compositions here range from Captain Beefheart-styled syncopated blues-funk tomes (the title track) to extended interval studies ("Out of Order") to extrapolations on jazz-rock tropes that melt both genres into a new improvisational stew ("That's What"). Through it all, Stevens uses the guitars as his true front line. As he employs his concept of "rhythmelody" -- which incorporates elaborate chromaticism and recognizable if not traditional jazz scalar investigations -- the guitar-slingers touch deep into the vein of groove and elemental enunciation of genre, style, and mood. The rhythm section skids and slides with subtle, powerful skeins of quickstep elocution allowing the horns their free float above the groove, but never outside it. When improvisation takes place, all of these elements are considered and communicated throughout the three subgroups of players. The end result is a wonderfully accessible, funky, futuristic masterpiece. Stevens knows that to really move something forward you need to touch upon the past and the present. This record rocks.

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