CD review: Dayna Stephens – Right Now! Live at the Village Vanguard 2020: Live full concert video, CD cover

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Dayna Stephens.

Dayna Stephens, ranked first-place Rising Star Tenor Saxophonist in the 2019 Downbeat Critics Poll, is proud to follow up his acclaimed 2020 trio release Liberty with his 10th album as a leader, Right Now!

The Dayna Stephens Quartet Live at the Village Vanguard. Recorded at the historic New York club in February 2019, Right Now! finds Stephens fronting a brilliant quartet with Aaron Parks on piano, Ben Street on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. “Playing the Vanguard was so special for me,” says Stephens. “The Vanguard was the first place I saw live musicians play, a videotape of the Johnny Griffin Quartet that I saw when I was 13. To lead my own group at the Vanguard is the highest honor that I, and the 13-year-old inside of me, could have ever imagined.”

Much of the Right Now! repertoire comes from Stephens’ rich catalog as a leader, beginning with his 2007 debut The Timeless Now — on which “The Beginning of an Endless Happy Monday,” “Smoking Gun” (based on Monk’s “Evidence”) and “Contagious” were first heard. “In a way I see Right Now! as perhaps the bookend of this chapter in my evolution since The Timeless Now,” Stephens remarks, hinting at new directions to come. We also hear “Radio-Active Earworm” and “Loosy Goosy” from 2012’s Today Is Tomorrow and “JFK International” from 2013’s I’ll Take My Chances, revised and reinvented on the bandstand. “Every time I count off a tune it begins a new journey, even more so with different personnel,” Stephens says. Street, who played bass on The Timeless Now as well as Liberty, brings his deep insight and effortless flow to the music at every step, complementing Hutchinson’s supple and joyously interactive swing.

There are also five songs from Liberty (including “Loosy Goosy” as well), but in contrast to Liberty’s sparser trio versions of “Tarifa,” “Ran,” “Faith Leap” and Aaron Parks’ own “Planting Flowers,” we now hear Parks added to the mix. “In trio the conversation tends to be based more around rhythm,” Stephens notes. “Aaron adds a patient rhythmic and harmonic depth that I find really engaging. His solo on ‘Faith Leap’ knocks me out every time I hear it. And ‘Planting Flowers,’ which he wrote at age 15, is just one of the most perfect tunes I’ve ever played, and it works at many different tempos and approaches.”

There are new compositions as well: “Lesson One,” a fiery midtempo homage to Stephens’ Bay Area mentor John Spingarn; “You Are Me Blues,” which refers to the human tendency to “forget about our unity as a species”; and the closing “Blakonian Groove,” a dedication to Stephens’ friend, neighbor and Kenny Barron Quintet bandmate, drummer Johnathan Blake. While Stephens plays soprano on “Tarifa” and alto on “Faith Leap” and “Endless Happy Monday,” Right Now! is mainly a showcase for his distinctively warm and agile tenor, revealing traces of many pivotal influences including Charlie Rouse, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Lester Young and more.

Another sound emerges as well, on “Blakonian Groove” and “Radio-Active Earworm”: the Nyle Steiner Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI), which brings a wealth of alternate textures and colors to the band’s sound. “My EWI sound is directly influenced by the Leslie speaker that comes often with a Hammond B3 organ,” Stephens explains. “I also use guitar pedals and iPad sound generators and can get lost in it for hours at a time. This period of social distancing has driven me even deeper into sound design. My next recording is with the EWI-focused band Pluto Juice and will be out sometime in winter 2020.”

01. Smoking Gun (Live)
02. Tarifa (Live)
03. Ran (Live)
04. Contagious (Live)
05. Radio-Active Earworm (Live)
06. Faith Leap (Live)
07. Lesson One (Live)
08. Loosy Goosy (Live)
09. Planting Flowers (Live)
10. JFK International (Live)
11. You Are Me Blues (Live)
12. The Beginning of an Endless Happy Monday (Live)
13. Blakonian Groove (Live)

Dayna Stephens, saxophone
Aaron Parks, piano
Ben Street, bass
Gregory Hutchinson, drums

Right Now! Live at the Village Vanguard | Dayna Stephens

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