The spirit of Andrew Hill is alive and well and present on this new release from pianist Michael Jefry Stevens. Recorded in 1996, but inexplicably unreleased until 2008, For Andrew showcases a standard, albeit avant garde-leaning piano trio of Stevens, bassist Peter Herbert and drummer Jeff Siegel performing several stellar Stevens originals, as well as intriguing takes on "Nardis" and "Lazy Afternoon."
Stevens cites Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett as additional influences and the combination of styles is a winner. Like his heroes, Stevens displays a desire to stretch boundaries within the forms of composition rather than simply leaving things to chance as in total free form music. The result is music that is challenging and exciting, but still quite melodic and listenable.
It helps that Stevens has such complementary players working with him on this recording. Drummer Siegel is active, but completely sensitive, and Austrian bassist Herbert is a true revelation - combining incredible technique with a lush bass tone (catch his sprightly bowing on "Lazy Waltz" and "The River Po"). Stevens blends the styles of his mentors into an exciting new sound on the piano. This is definitely not one of those somnambulent trio recordings where the members seem to be sleepwalking - this music is vibrant, crackling full of energy and ideas. Stevens originals like "Spirit Song," "Waltz," "Specific Gravity," "Parallel Lines," and "The Lockout" build on intricate and well-balanced musical architecture of varied styles, that allows all members to infuse their individual musical spirit into producing music that will have you replaying this recording often in order to catch all the integrated components that went into this exceptional release.
The NYC-born, Memphis-based Stevens is a vastly underrated pianist and composer, who has recorded extensively and often tours Europe and South America. One can hope For Andrew brings his talents to a wider audience here in the States. I am confident of one thing: I'm sure Mr. Hill would have been proud.