The Mountain Chamber Jazz Ensemble is a hybrid ensemble consisting of a string section (violin, viola, cello, contrabass), a percussion section (drums set, percussionist, vibraphone and piano), a brass section (trombone and trumpet) and a woodwind section (clarinet, flute, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, alto saxophone).
This ensemble utilizes elements from jazz, classical, rock, Latin and other music. The music is primarily acoustic and, while the group normally consists of 8 – 13 instrumentalists, the vocal aspect of the music is equally or even more important to the overall aesthetic of the ensemble. There is equal weight given to the two main facets of this music: the composed material and the improvisational sections. The textures vary greatly between compositions. When the strings predominate one immediately notes the classical music influence. When the horns solo (individually or in a group), there is a distinct jazz influence in the music. When the percussion section is featured the music can range from a Latin feel to a rock or funky feel.
The pool of musicians includes but is not limited to: Christian Howes (violin), Erisa Goto (Violin), Candace English (violin), Rick Dilling (drums), Justin Watt (drums), Ben Bjorlie (drums), Bill Berg (drums), Zack Page (bass), Danny Iannucci (bass), Bill Fouty (bass), Ryan Kijanka (bass), Gina Caldwell (viola), Anya Yarbrough(viola), Franklin Keel (cello), Jason DeCristofaro (vibraphone), Rob Falvo (percussion), Jason Moore (sax, fl, cl), Frank Southecorvo (saxophones), Walter Kross (sax, fl, cl), Doran Heck (sax, fl), Woody Dotson (tpt), Justice Mann (tbn), Harold McKinney (tbn), Katie Cilluffo (voice), Wendy Jones (voice and flute,voice) and myself on piano and electric piano.
The music of Michael Jefry Stevens has been extensively recorded and reviewed. Here are some quotes:
“Stevens’ melodic sensibility shines through even the most free moments of this 2015 live date ……… Often the tunes progress by stealth, as in Stevens’ lovely “Mantra #2”, pointillist exchange unfurling into a passage of rippling chiming piano from which a Satie-esque melody emerges.”
NYC Jazz Record 10/2016 by John Sharpe
“Stevens probably does his most profound work as a composer. He amply demonstrates this on Brass Tactics, a session featuring his piano plus a brass choir consisting of Swell and Dave Taylor on trombones plus Dave Ballou and Ed Sarath on trumpets. Reflecting a lifetime of getting down to brass tack-tics, Stevens’ dozen compositions flirt with intertwining Jazz, Blues, so-called classical and band music without fully plunging into the Third Stream.” 2016 Review of “Brass Tactics” CD by Budd Kopman (All About Jazz)
Michael Jefry Stevens has for years a group with Joe Fonda, which is natural to understand perfectly, in its open and lyrical musical style. Focusing on the mid and high side of the keyboard, Mr. Stevens sometimes resorts to rich harmonies and percussive patterns that repeat obsessively. His role is perhaps the most impressive since, surely un-intentionally, he diverts attention from the listener into his piano at all times.
Review of “Poetry in Motion” (2012) in All About Jazz Italia
“Great concert even on the morning of Saturday at Kulturni Dom of Nova Gorica. The trio played with a perfection and an unrivaled creativity with the delicious and everchanging work of the grand pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, perhaps the musician who most
impressed us among the many who have gone on the stage of the festival.
Review “Generations Quartet” in All About Jazz Italia (2015)
“This is a group of relatively unfashionable - if not exactly 'outsider' - improvisers, who for the last decade and a half have produced music of consistent high intelligence and often great loveliness.”
Review of “Evolution” by the Fonda/Stevens Group
“The band seamlessly flowed into the song 'What About The Future', which composer Michael Jefry Stevens with elements of classical music, avantgarde jazz and the contours of a golden triangle clearly defined. Pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda function as a duo in the most diverse situations, and where Fonda is the man with the presence, the humble Stevens gives in many cases the music just what makes them exciting and accessible at the same time.
Live Concert Review in Sint Niklaas, Belgium (March, 2015)
“The continuous changes of mood and texture, from rhapsodic to Dadaist to wistful, are stunning, and only broken when the listener has to change CDs. The concert took place in Krakow, Poland on November 19, 2008 at the club Alchemia, a favorite venue of the band. The transition in "Circle" is particularly stunning, and rightfully draws some audience applause: Stevens lays out a passel of stormy, tense chords that diminuendo into a few solitary high notes, which Schuller extinguishes in a quick kick- to-snare shuffle that picks up Fonda's bass and Ullmann's soprano on its second run through the refrain.”
Nathan Turk – Signal to Noise (2010)
“Stevens’ compositions apply the brass in a few different ways. “Temperature Rising” is a funky groove that keeps the beat even as the music dives into a colorful group improvisation. “Variables” and “12 Chatham Road” use strategies that feel closer to classical experiments. The former is like a percussive game, with the horns pecking out composed, interlocking lines, getting gradually louder until the piano comes in with the same pecking approach. “12 Chatham” splits the horns: two in a punchy rhythm, two playing long tones of melody. They make way for a serious and flowing piano interlude. Then there’s “To the Glory,” which puts the horns in a slow, reverent mood — think of the closing credits to a film, with some piano in a jazz “color” to brighten the scene. It’s more fond remembrance than mourning. What’s surprising is the quietude that lingers over the album. The band almost feels a sextet, because in addition to the brass and the piano, your attention gets drawn to the air. The absence of bass, drums, or
chord instruments forces you to reckon with the blank spaces between those brass notes, whether they’re puffed bursts or the longer, elegant tones of a track like “For Alban Berg.”
Review of Brass Tactics CD (2016)
Anyone remotely interested "creative improvised music" (aka jazz) that intersects with the Classical aesthetic should take the time to listen closely to pianist Michael Jefry Stevens' latest release Brass Tactics. Stevens is a thinking man's player mostly known for his work in
The Fonda/Stevens Group (see Folk Five) and Conference Call, as well as leading his own groups. The instrumentation is, of course, interesting and Stevens finds many ways to not only mix the piano and
horns, but to voice the horns themselves. Aside from four completely improvised tracks, the remaining eight tracks are compositions which are intricate enough that Stevens enlisted Amy Kohn to conduct,
which stretches the concept of "lead sheet" to the limit. Stevens presents, with Brass Tactics, music on which to really chew and reflect upon. It is at once both delicately floating and tautly intense,
making for highly rewarding listening.Michael Jefry Stevens: Brass Tactics
By BUDD KOPMAN June 28, 2016