Remember the line from Butch Cassidy and the Sun-dance Kid: “Who are those guys?” How can a piano trio be this cool and not be famous? But, of course, this is jazz: You can play all over the world for 30 years and appear on 58 CDs, like Michael Jefry Stevens, and remain under the radar.
The other two members are bassist Peter Herbert and drummer Jeff Siegel. What is interesting about this trio, besides individual chops and collective cohesion, is that they mostly sail in the uncharted waters of a transitional creative zone. They venture beyond Andrew Hill (an acknowledged Stevens influence to whom this album is dedicated) but stop short of Cecil Taylor. They choose to play a cabaret standard like “Lazy Afternoon,” but they dissolve it into bare, disparate, isolated elements: a cymbal shimmer, a tentative fragmentary piano interval, an obsessive bass figure. Crashing piano chords and fierce tremolos gradually coalesce into an actual “Nardis.”
What is also fascinating about this trio is its imagery: Fluid lyricism coexists with sudden angles and jagged edges. Stevens writes a lingering melody like “Lazy Waltz” and unravels it in long strands of single treble notes. But he also sets up “Parallel Lines” only to break them free as piano and bass both swing wildly off course.
This album was recorded in 1996 but not released until now. Who are these guys?