Michael Jefry Stevens

Parallel Lines - The Fonda/Stevens Group - CD review

The Fonda/Stevens Group serves up a characteristically ambivalent sound on the 1997 studio recordParallel Lines.On one hand, the quintet deftly handles structured straightahead material; but on the other, it yields at the slightest opportunity to collective improvisation. Bassist Joe Fonda stands at the crux of the group--interacting with drummer Harvey Sorgen in a potently rhythmic role (check out their duo performance midway through the tune “Waltz”), as well as interdigitating with pianist Michael Stevens in a strikingly intuitive fashion to help define the group's harmony.On this relatively early Fonda/Stevens Group performance, the FSG is a quintet, including saxophonist Mark Whitecage (who subsequently departed the group) and trumpeter Herb Robertson (who yielded the trumpet chair to Paul Smoker on the 2000 releaseLive At The Bunker). The three “Q” pieces at the core of this recording offer the most intense and extensive group improvisation. Stevens!'s piano work becomes more dynamic and abstract, with attendant runs and clusters. Whitecage serves up the undulating, pulsing improvisations that have become his trademark. And Robertson pops in and out with a fractured, edgy counterpoint. These improvisations get to the core of what Fonda refers to in his liner notes as the “element of unpredictability.” And since these five players have the collective experience required to negotiate this realm without getting lost,Parallel Linesends up mostly successful--more so because of the group interaction than because of the virtuosity of any individual player.