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Amy Stephens Group: My Many Moods

Musicians are musicians, presumably, because they express themselves better in music than in architecture or words. But alas, this presumption does not keep many of them from writing their own liner notes. Amy Stephens provides written material for My Many Moods that would get a C- in most high-school creative-writing classes. She sets up an expectation that her music will be platitudinous, self-dramatizing and maudlin.

Actually it’s not–or not very. She may employ titles like “Inquietude of the Soul,” but she writes interesting tunes with intricate structural surprises. Her quartet (Tom Clark on reeds, Jack Helsley on bass, Kenny Phelps on drums) plays them with energy and precision. Clark, on both tenor and soprano, is sometimes overbearing, but he is undeniably passionate and fast.

Stephens is best on the harder and/or trickier stuff, like “Reunion” and “Breakfast in Atlanta,” by Marcos Cavalcante. Even the aforementioned “Inquietude”–which Stephens unfortunately describes as “the inescapable quest for peace and assurance in the midst of trials and sorrows”–is much more intellectually rigorous than her verbiage would suggest. It is when she tries to become overtly elegiac, like on “Lullaby” and “Waiting for You,” that she becomes predictable and sentimental.

Originally Published