The third release by pianist/composer Amy Stephens provides further confirmation that jazz has matured sufficiently as an art form to serve as a vehicle for very different, very individual moods and feelings. With a background that includes classical training, study with jazz educator David Baker, and experience as music director for various churches, Amy has developed a very personal mode of expression within the jazz genre, expressed as much through her compositions as through her piano work. Having kept a quartet together since 1998 she has had the opportunity to perform and develop her work, although having recently moved from the Midwest--Indianapolis I believe--to Seattle, she now has a new group, which is heard on one track.
This is not the run-of-the-mill jazz group--it is clearly an extension of Stephens' musical personality which reflects an interesting combination of elements: her classical background ensures that pieces such as "Inquietude of the Soul" is not the normal bread and butter of bebop; "Breakfast In Atlanta" has a definite gospelly, hymn-like feeling; and her time in the Midwest gives her music that same wide-open feeling you can hear in some of Pat Metheney or Charlie Haden's work, as well as in some Scandinavian players such as Jan Garbareck and other ECM artists. Interestingly, some outlets classify her as Rock/Pop as well as jazz, and the airplay she has received have been from a gamut of different stations. But Amy's music is not the bloodless stuff of smooth-jazz or pop. True, "Waiting For You" has the feel of a Carole King or Joni Mitchell song without lyrics, and the melody of "There Must Be A Place Called Heaven" also has the simple inevitability of a pop song. But this kind of simplicity is what a lot of composers strive for and melodic accessibility is a strength not a weakness. No, this music is exactly as she has billed it˝reflective of her Many Moods": joy at "Reunion" with her original quartet, wistfulness in "Waiting for You," tenderness in "Lullaby." And, of course, "Tranquility" speaks for itself.
The quartet members provide admirable support wherever they appear; Helsey provides firm, big-toned lines, both in accompaniment and solo passages, Phelps is crisp but unobtrusive, and Clark, where he appears˝"Inquietude Of The Soul" is a piano solo and "Waiting For You" is for piano plus rhythm only˝is a strong improviser with a purity of tone that fits perfectly into the sound of the group.
"My Many Moods" features Stephens' new, Seattle-based ensemble, adding a sense of transition to the other life changes that underlie the compositions here. Judging by the performance, her next album will pick up right where this one leaves off. And this one is a gem.