Michael Jefry Stevens

Michael Rabinowitz Quartet South

Rabinowitz and Stevens began playing together in the legendary New York City “Mosaic Sextet”.  The Sextet featured Dave Douglas, Mark Feldman, Joe Fonda, Harvey Sorgen as well as Rabinowitz and Stevens.  The group’s debut CD “Today this Moment” is listed in the Penguin Music Guide as one of the top 100 CD’s of 1990’s.  The two Michaels’ continued their musical relationship with the release of their duo CD “Play” which was a series of free improvisations recorded in the studio.  They also collaborated on several projects and recordings with vocalist Lenore Von Stein.  Their new quartet collaboration features two of western North Carolina’s premier players:  Zack Page on bass and Rick Dilling on drums.

The members...

CD Release

Click the album image to read the reviews.

The disc’s bouncy title tells one story, the inward-Iooking track titles another: “Memory Lane,” “Cloud Drift,” “Dew Drops,” “Whispering Wind….”As you’d expect from a bassoon/piano duo, this sounds gorgeous. Stevens’ phrases ripple up and down the keyboard, or drift around Bleyishly like snowdrifts or windblown leaves, Rabinowitz mostly keeps to the plangent side of his instrument-Iong, lonely notes, throbbing with vibrato-though he’s occasionally peppier, especially on his solo piece “Reflections:’ Play is qui tessential autumn music: lean, shadowed beauty. You could call it latterday Third Stream (Drimala’s Philip Egert notes echoes of Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, and even Vivaldi) but there’s plenty here for the straight Jazz fan: check out, for instance, the somber “Aftermath,” virtually a Mal Waldron tribute (who else could lie behind Stevens’ trancelike quartal chords?). Sometime the album’s a Iittle too languorous for its own good. “Whispering Wind” is a bit saccharine-but that’s small quibble. It’s a good disc to put on the stereo if you’re in the mood for something beautiful and a Iittle fragile.

Nate Dorward – Cadence Magazine – April 2005

 

For an instrument usually reserved for the buttoned-up environs of the “Symphony Center”, the bassoon, in fact, fits jazz and improvised music settings quite well. While other reedists have dabbled, few have been bold enough to make this unwieldy instrument their main axe. Michael Rabinowitz, though, is happy to rise to the challenge, making Drimala Records’ duet series an ideal setting for the bassoonist to soar, especially in the company of a worthy associate like pianist Michael Jefry Stevens. Throughout this intimate and thoughtful session, the duo covers terrain that evokes grand classicism, jazz, and attuned improv, rich on reflection and spirit, with room for playfulness that at times evokes a celebratory feeling between old friends. As for this one-day session, the pieces were improvised on the spot, though it is quite easy to assume that the majority of these experiences took some shape of written form beforehand. Interestingly enough, the titles given to the pieces are quite apt, painting pictures of organic, sparse interactions, touched by the beauty of nature. The album’s opener, “Sibling Rivalry”, focuses on the individuals for a terse, spirited discussion where Stevens and Rabinowitz finish each other’s sentences. Similarly, the active “Play” presents the duo at their most percussive, while “Meadow” and the cooperative “Sea Song” are as close as the partners are to locking horns, with Rabinowitz pushing out some steam on the former. The duo also sparkles during the reflective pieces like “Memory Lane”, perhaps a harkening back to years of playing together and the paths they’ve traveled. Such sincerity also carries over to the quiet after the storm, heard in the stark lines and extended bassoon dialogue of “Aftermath”, or the floating “The Graceful Bear”. Further, “Reflections” is a focused solo showcase for Rabinowitz that fosters both slowly evolving and lively thoughts. While the presence of Rabinowitz on record is a treat, the same can be said for Stevens. Throughout the record, the pianist demonstrates a command of his instrument, not only in a technical sense, but also for the warmth and feeling he coaxes from this stringed, wooden box. His classical notions are explored in particular depth on the floating waves of “Cloud Drift” and the captivating “Whispering Wind”, the latter of which bursts with a rich splendor that drives right to the core of Stevens’ sense of emotion. As a final word, the pair drifts away on “Rivulets”, commencing with dense, melancholic chord structures that serve as the vessel for Rabinowitz’s equally passionate and solemn.

Jay Collins 9 September 2004

 

Continuing the Drimala label’s exploration of the art of the duo, Play finds former Mosaic Sextet band members Michael Jefry Stevens (piano) and Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon) together in the studio for the first time in nearly ten years, though you’d never guess. The interplay between the two is impressive, almost telepathic from the outset, as proceedings kick off in style with the opening “Sibling Rivalry”. A strong lyrical vein runs through the music, and “jazz” somehow just doesn’t seem to be the right word to describe it, firstly because the bassoon is hardly a standard jazz instrument (give yourself a test and see how many jazz bassoonists you can name once you’ve mentioned Rabinowitz and, of course, Karen Borca) and secondly because Stevens’ piano stylings owe as much to Debussy, Bartók and Stravinsky as they do to any post-War jazz pianist you’d care to name. If left to his own devices too often, Stevens can tend to drift into rather manneristic repetition, transposing figures over and over again in the same direction, which is why I prefer him in larger ensembles (check out Aercine, on Drimala, where he’s joined by Mark Feldman, Harvey Sorgen, Steve Rust and Herb Robertson), but with Rabinowitz around to keep him in check, this happens comparatively rarely.  

Bruce Gallanter – Downtown Music Gallery

Mountain Song

Style: jazz waltz

Grade: 3

I wrote this song while I was living in Brooklyn, NY and spending quite a bit of time in Woodstock, NY.  This is the closest thing to a “country music” song I have ever written.  This composition was recorded by myself and bassist Eliot Wadopian on our "Mountain Song" duo CD.  This piece is extremely playable at most levels!!!

Mountain Song

$2.49

Alisiah

Style: Swing

Grade: 1

Alisiah is one of my earliest compositions. The tonality revolves around C major, F major and Eminor. It is a very simple medium tempo swing tune. Nothing fancy.  This piece was recorded on my "Duets" CD with vibraphonist Jason DeCristofaro.

Alisiah

$2.49

For My Brother

Style: Ballad

Grade: 2

The harmonies move quite slowly in this ballad.  The most challenging aspect of the piece are the 2/4 bars.  This ballad was recorded on Jon Hemmersam's "Remembering" CD release which also featured Dave Liebman and Rakalam Bob Moses.

For My Brother

$2.49

Lei’s Song

Style: Waltz

Grade: 2

This is one of my favorite compositions.  Written in 3/4 time, but with phrases grouped in three’s, four’s and other odd groupings this is a very unique piece.  Also, it is made up entirely of minor 7 chords.  The Fonda/Stevens Group recorded this tune on our CD "The Healing".

Lei’s Song

$2.49

The Beauty That We Are

Style: Ballad

Grade: 1

This ballad is quite easy to play.  The changes move very slowly giving the student plenty of time to navigate the harmonic landscape.

The Beauty That We Are

$2.49

The Moffett Family

Style: Blues

Grade: 2

This piece was composed in the early 1980's and dedicated to Charnett Moffett and his family band. I played with the band for one year. The tune is a simple form containing only dominant chords. The feel is very bluesy.

The Moffett Family

$2.49

Red’s Blues

Style: Blues, swing

Grade: 2

This is a very simple “swing” composition with a bluesy feel but not in a Blues form. The changes are very simple. The head is a question-and-answer with the melody and the rhythm section.  A good piece to introduce the blues scale to students. Released on my "Red's Blues" CD.

Red’s Blues

$2.49

Song for Rio

Style: Latin

Grade: 3

I wrote this bossa nova after visiting Rio in 1999.  The form is quite long and the bridge is very chromatic.  The piece is highly melodic and quite fun to play.  The "Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio" recorded this tune on our "Six" CD release.

Song for Rio

$2.49

Memorial

Style: Latin

Grade: 4

This piece features a Latin feel written out in the piano part.  The changes are pretty standard and move slowly enough for the student to navigate quite easily. The bridge of the tune is a fun release from all the harmonic movement in the beginning section of the composition.  The "Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio" recorded this composition on our "Panorama" CD which featured Valery Ponomarev on trumpet.

Memorial

$2.49

The Innocence of Spring

Style: Swing

Grade: 4

This medium swing tune consists of an extended melody and long form.  The harmonies are very chromatic and include some hybrid chordal structures as well.  The piece is challenging but worth the effort.  I recorded this on my "The Innocence of Spring" CD with saxophonist Don Aliquo.

The Innocence of Spring

$2.49

Kulturshock

Style: Swing

Grade: 5

This is a very adventurous composition. The harmonies are very difficult and the rhythms are quite unusual. A great challenge for the advanced player.  I wrote this piece shortly after moving from Brooklyn, NY to Memphis, TN.  That was quite a culture shock!!!

Kulturshock

$2.49

Four Wheeler

Style: Swing

Grade: 2

This composition is an open swing feel featuring a chromatic chord sequence and several polychords.  The changes move quickly making the piece difficult for the soloist to navigate. The melody is not difficult but overall the piece is challenging.  This is dedicated to the great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.

Four Wheeler

$2.49

The Beauty That We Are

Style: ballad
Grade: 2

This ballad is quite easy to play.  The changes move very slowly giving the student plenty of time to navigate the harmonic landscape.

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