Life changing moments are often the seed that produces the oak, and for tenor/baritone saxophonist Dayna Stephens it was his recovery from Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a rare kidney disorder.
The sound is distinctly American – fluent harmonies and an all encompassing wall of sound feel – but more Pat Metheny, who contributes one of the tracks, We Had A Sister, than Phil Spector.
In recovery Stephens had ample time to assemble songs infused with the light of the sun rather than the dark side of the moon, songs that would edify and irradiate, from Aaron Parks’ In A Garden to Massimo Biolcati’s Clouds, with star turns from exceptional musicians throughout, including Brad Mehldau.
Naturally, Stephens’ lyrical sax takes centre stage, cogitative and reflective, pushing the melodies towards a conceptual end, a depth of gratitude which leap frogs the inescapable uncertainty of their provenance.
Some of the tracks are new and some are old, but they each have had a walk on role in Stephens’ career: Stephens has long appreciated the visual quality of Aaron Parks’ In A Garden, and he grew up with Metheny’s haunting We Had A Sister.
Clouds has its roots in the magical sonic world of producer Louis Cole, whereas the only Stephens-penned track, The Timbre of Gratitude, is a homage to compassion and inspiration, two wells Stephens returned to time and again during his illness.
His band tuned down their instruments to incorporate a tack piano they discovered while recording Woodside Waltz, while Amber is Falling, coming in at over eight minutes, encapsulates the essence of this breezy jazz outing.