By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Relevancy
Every time I turn around, a swinging new trio has entered the jazz stage (and I wouldn’t have it any other way!). One of the newest is this pleasant combo led by pianist, composer and arranger Chip Stephens. He’s well known in the jazz world, having played with iconic groups associated with Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller and many others.
All told, Stephens has recorded as a sideman on more than 70 albums. As it happens, I reviewed him on Fuller’s 2010 release, I Will Tell Her; I was impressed then, and even more so here, with Stephens fronting his own trio.
Like many of today’s jazz musicians, Stephens also is a teacher — currently at the University of Illinois — with more than 15 years’ experience at the college level. He maintains a full schedule of performance and teaching.
Bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Joel Spencer provide Stephens with excellent support on this release, which includes three of his own compositions: “Somewhere Before the End,” “A Day in May” and “Chip’s Blues.” The trio also puts its stamp on “34 Skidoo,” one of Bill Evans’ charts; Rogers and Hart’s seldom-heard “This Funny World”; and Sammy Cahn and Nicholas Brodzsky’s “Be My Love,” which Mario Lanza made famous.
Just in passing, I never expected the latter to be done in a jazz mode.
All the tracks are delightful, done with harmonic variations and chord changes that give them new lives. My favorite is “Chip’s Blues,” a catchy, groovin’ 12-bar piece that is impossible to hear without swingin’ in time to the melody.
Stephens is one hell of a pianist, and this unit is a “must listen to” group!