Saxophonist Dayna Stephens’s new double disc shows his knack for reinvention | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Saxophonist Dayna Stephens’s new double disc shows his knack for reinvention

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Dayna Stephens’s melodic feel and versatility have made the New York-based saxophonist a key player in a wide range of ensembles. Veteran pianist Kenny Barron and inventive Australian bassist and composer Linda Oh are two of many who have relied on Stephens’s warm tone. His compositions, which comprise the bulk of his ten albums as a bandleader, convey a similar lyricism—and the new double disc Right Now! Live at the Village Vanguard, recording in 2019 during two quartet sets at the storied New York jazz club, serves as an ideal overview while also showing off his knack for self-reinvention. On “Tarifa,” bassist Ben Street and drummer Gregory Hutchinson use repeated phrases to set up Stephens’s lines, which start as short, disjointed phrases but ultimately add up to a remarkable clarity. Occasionally Stephens’s oblique leads echo mid-60s Wayne Shorter, but he wraps that influence up into his own assertive style. He also includes quartet adaptations of some pieces from his recent trio album, Liberty (where he’s accompanied only by bass and drums), which shows that the chordal anchor of a piano doesn’t encumber the larger group’s harmonic flights. Pianist Aaron Parks, who contributed the vibrant ballad “Planting Flowers,” sounds attuned to Stephens’s leaps. On a couple tracks the bandleader plays an EWI (electronic wind instrument), a synthesizer “horn” with a breath controller, and though it can sound overbearing in an otherwise acoustic setting, here it’s well balanced with Parks’s forays. EWI or no EWI, though, throughout Right Now! it’s Stephens’s exchanges with his bandmates in front of this classic venue’s audiences that provide the real electricity.   v

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