The Timeless Now
Also an acoustic bassist, Dayna Stephens has a knowledge of rhythm that most sax players don’t even think is necessary. He doesn’t rush. Stephens, 29, graduated from the Thelonious Monk Institute four years ago and apprenticed with Roy Hargrove, Steve Coleman and Stefon Harris before releasing his solo debut, The Timeless Now.
Stephens makes the right personnel choices on the disc, and not just by featuring guitarist John Scofield on three tracks. Pianist Taylor Eigsti, set to turn 23, switches to Fender Rhodes on “Teeth,” and his dialogue with Stephens’ tenor fuels the 10-minute quartet piece with bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric Harland. Eigsti’s piano intro and solo on “Contagious” burn, and Harland also solos impressively and helps the pianist support Stephens on the post-bop classic. Street introduces Stephens’ pensive, 6/8-timed “There’s That Smile,” and the bassist’s break displays impressive tone and touch.
Valve trombonist Nick Vagenas’ lines with the saxophonist on “Once Upon a Timeless Now,” with sparse accompaniment, create beautiful ambience. Scofield guests on two Stephens originals (playing counterpoint melodies on the leisurely “Beginning of an Endless Happy Monday;” updating Monk’s “Evidence” on “Smoking Gun”) and a lush cover of Ferde Grofé’s “On the Trail.”
The guitarist has exhibited a Midas touch recently, from his most recent live effort EnRoute to Out Louder with Medeski, Martin and Wood, and his scene-stealing cover of “Over Under Sideways Down” on the new Freeway Jam to Beck and Back tribute to Jeff Beck. Stephens’ phrasing, impressive youthful band and open mind are all characteristics that Scofield learned while with Miles Davis, meaning this timely debut may signal the birth of a new cool.