By: Generations Quartet (Joe Fonda , Michael Jefry Stevens , Emil Gross, Oliver Lake)
Catalog No: MW 942-2
Price: 12 EUR
Rollin’ (Lake) 8:58
Me Without Bella (Fonda) 17:24
Mantra #2 (Stevens) 12:43
Flow (Lake) 11:11
La Dirge de la Fleuer (Stevens) 7:31
Read This (Fonda) 5:40
Coda (Stevens) 2:31
Joe Fonda – bass
Michael Jefry Stevens – piano
Emil Gross – drums
Oliver Lake – saxophone
live at the Bunker Ulmenwall in Bielefeld, Germany on October 30, 2016
Co-produced by the Bunker Ulmenwall, Wolfgang Gross, Joe Fonda, Emil Gross and Michael Jefry Stevens
Sound Engineer – Karl Godejohann
Mixed and Mastered by – Karl Godejohann
Special Thanks to Zupan Iztok and Klopotec Records; to Udo Preiss for the idea that became the Generations Quartet; Marek Winiarski for his tireless support of creative music
Cover art by Oliver Lake
Music by Joe Fonda and Michael Jefry Stevens (GEMA)
Music by Oliver Lake (Talkin’ Stick Music –SESAC)
Michael Jefry Stevens is a Steinway Artist
Up until recently the art of Jazz was shared from one generation to the next by way of apprenticeship from master to student. The “bandstand” was the musician’s classroom. This type of tutelage can be witnessed throughout the history of Jazz, from Louis Armstong to the great bands of Ellington and Basie, through the small groups of Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Mingus, Miles Davis and the like. While it is true that this type of apprentice/master relationship still exists today, currently the majority of jazz education in the 21st century takes place in the University classroom.
My own personal jazz education started with listening to records, private lessons, some brief classroom experiences, and then moved primarily to the bandstand. I remember performing with the late great drummer Billy Peoples (Miami) when I was in my early twenties. One of my early “bad habits” was to stomp my feet on the stage as a way to keep time with the music. I remember Billly throwing a drumstick across the bandstand and just missing my head while he yelled at me “I am the drummer”. Needless to say I no longer stomp my feet while playing!!
I have been fortunate to work briefly with several “Masters” beginning with Ira Sullivan and including Charles Moffett Sr., Dave Liebman, Wadada Leo Smith, Mark Whitecage, Dakota Staton, Dom Minasi and many others. The list is long. However, performing over the last several years with Oliver Lake as part of our “Generations Quartet” has been a unique experience for me. Perhaps it is because at the ripe age of 65 I am able to appreciate more fully the mastery of an artist like Oliver Lake. Oliver’s dedication, passion and intensity on the bandstand consistently elevates my own playing to another level. When performing with Oliver (and the rest of the quartet) I experience the Music in a more complete and organic way. This is the gift of a Master.
Of course, I must also thank my musical partner over the past thirty years, bassist Joe Fonda. What a blessing to have been privileged to work with Joe in so many different contexts and grow together musically, personally and spiritually.
And, what can I say about our young drummer, Emil Gross. We started this project as a trio and it has been an honor to be a part of Emil’s musical and personal growth over the past six years. Emil is a natural musician and continues to surprise and delight us with his creativity, imagination and integrity.
Thanks to everyone who has helped us along this path for the past forty years. Without your support this recording would not exist!!!
Michael Jefry Stevens
Black Mountain, NC
February 25, 2016
Wha tthe critics say:
As the name would imply, the Generations Quartet spans the ages of its personnel. An off-shoot (of sorts) from the Trio Generations group, it's a semantic difference as saxophone legend Oliver Lake was a guest in the lineup that performed in 2015. From that same tour, we get Flow, a festive exercise of freedom and comradery that could only be realized by a team with the wealth of experience and talent gathered here. Recorded live (but non-sequentially) in Germany, it captures a spontaneity and energy that is rare in improvised music.
If there is a de facto leader of the Generations Quartet, research (and liner notes) would point to pianist/composer Michael Jefry Stevens, though there is no evidence of iron-fisted demagoguery here. It's somewhat irrelevant when you have, in Joe Fonda, one of the undisputedly best bassists in modern creative music. He and Stevens have been long-time collaborators under many guises over three decades. An exceptionally gifted, but often under-recognized artist, Stevens has been as influential in Fonda's musical choices as have been the bassist's early associations with Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith.
Lake is an enigma wrapped in a mystery to paraphrase Churchill. A founding member of the prestigious World Saxophone Quartet, along with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett, a poet, a Guggenheim fellow and a visual artist (counting the cover graphics of this album), the saxophonist needs no one to validate his contribution to modern culture. He has worked with Bjork, Lou Reed and A Tribe Called Quest and has spent a lifetime following a distinctive creative muse. Finally, Austrian drummer Emil Gross represents the younger end of the "generations" spectrum, with cross-genre affinities, and his intricate shading and pulsing momentum, all making him a perfectly responsive member of the group.
The brief but somewhat menacing intro to "Rollin" gets things off to an energetic start as Stevens and Lake trade often disjointed leads creating a palpable and unresolved tension. The seventeen-plus minute "Me Without Bella" is a small masterpiece. Fonda's bowed bass signaling an ominous atmosphere, Stevens and Lake, later cascading down notes. Fonda remains the glue holding the piece together as the piano and saxophone break into contrasting free improvisations. At its extended length the piece provides numerous occasions for fragments of melody and unison playing to work their way in.
"Mantra #2" opens more reflectively but builds with like a patient theatrical work, Stevens and Lake contributing more understated improvisations. Stevens especially shines here with a sophistication that doesn't impede a distinctive edginess. "Read This" is the polar opposite with Lake taking the roof off and Stevens channeling Cecil Taylor; to reinforce that comparison, the closing "Coda" is all Stevens, mixing finesse, complexity and restraint in a clear and compelling conclusion.
Of Flow's seven pieces, three are by Stevens and two each by Lake and Fonda. It's easy to imagine that this group, collectively and individually, will be considered in the discussion of the evolution of creative music as these composers and musicians encompass the best of genres, tradition, structure and free jazz. They have built, and continue to build, on years of experimentation and practice. This album feels—and sounds—like a labor of love.
(review courtesy of Kark Ackermann, AllAboutJazz.com)
Dependent on talent not fashion, the generation gap has never been as pronounced in Jazz and improvised music as it is in other fields. Like herds of animals whose direction is determined by skill, sociability and strength of some members, democracy prevails in most musical situations. That’s the basis for the flow of Flow on this CD, which also highlights cross-generational cooperation.
Centre of the band are Americans, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, 66, and bassist Joe Fonda, 61, who have been partners for three decades in their own bands and others such as Conference Call. Generations’ veteran is alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, 74, a leader or member of innumerable groups, including the World Saxophone Quartet, since his work in the early 1970s as part of St. Louis’ Black Artists Group. Many years later, versatile Vienna-based drummer Emil Gross, who is still in his twenties, was born. His presence not only adds credence to the generations tag, but showcases an adapt tyro, who also gigs as a guitarist and has worked with other American such as singer/pianist Mike Kindred and trumpeter Herb Robertson,
Lake’s down-home reed shading with its R&B roots sets the stage for this seven-track live session, aided by Fonda’s strident walking bass power and percussive timbral execution from both Stevens and Gross. But like craftspeople equally proficient in painting and sculpture the four easily navigate the rocky shores of Free Jazz as well as more common rhythmic forms. Conversant with his status as elder statesman, the others often cluster around Lake’s lead as if he’s in hostile territory, circling a wagon train to fend off outside forces that may attack. In truth the most protracted attack comes from inside, via the saxophonist’s stiletto sharp tones. On pieces such as Stevens’ “Mantra #2” and his own “Flow”, Lake’s dramatic narratives are ornamented with beeping, weeping and peeing tones which relate as much to Bostic as to Bird. On “Flow” he yanks the exposition as far into the reed stratosphere as he can without fracturing it. Om contrast, his stance on “Mantra #2” is that of a suitor caressing his beloved with fine words, but like a romantic comedy, equal emotion arrives from Stevens’ sunshiny piano strokes and tinkles. This accelerating passion is then illustrated by Stevens’ subsequent galloping glissandi and sweeping cascades that lines up against bugle-like cries and sibilant split tones from Lake. Set up more like a descriptive recital piece than a threnody, Stevens’ “La Dirge de la Fleuer” arrives at melodic distinction when his piano cascades and a pumping bass line flow over Lake’s thick reed texture that is smooth enough to be peanut butter, but the performance has enough stops and irregularities to musically replicate the crunchy variety.
Fonda’s most prolonged and profound showcase is his own almost 17½-minute “Me without Bella”. No narcissistic turn with American Idol excess, instead his concentrated excursion into splayed tones and deep echoing thumps soon settles into a perambulating groove with a semi-march beat. Intensifying the others’ contributions as when a locket added to a costume turns out to be valuable as well as stylish, the bassist’s slipping sizzling top tones and unique detuned guitar-like twangs join with Lake’s ability to break apart and reconstruct a theme, with the rooted foundation always provided by repeated piano chords.
As the drummer’s contributions fit perfectly in place with the three elder players’ contributions throughout, this CD can be lauded for its crack musicianship as well as a prime refutation of musical age-fissure.
(review courtesy of Ken Waxman, jazzword.com)
The Fonda/Stevens Group Trio + 2
The Nu Band, In Memory of Mark Whitecage
Harvey Sorgen, Joe Fonda, Marilyn Crispell
Uwe Oberg, Joe Fonda, Lucía Martínez
Fonda - Stevens Group
Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor feat. Jon Irabagon & Joe Fonda