Dayna Stephens/Anthony Fung

Pluto Juice
(Contagious Music)

At 53½ minutes, Pluto Juice is a journey. Dayna Stephens in his continuing explorations with the Akai Electronic Wind Instrument is finding new paths to explore and taking his sweet time getting there. Alongside drummer Anthony Fung’s exuberant keeping of the beat, this quartet quite adeptly makes this music boldly and courageously, like the next generation of fusion. Andrew Marzotto is a guitarist worthy of your attention and certainly grabs it throughout the album, especially his lively solo on “Outskirts Of Neptune” or the penultimate track, “Approaching Pluto,” with an easy groove that rises to unexpected heights.

Opener “Welcome To Our Snow Globe” is the perfect encapsulation of the album — well spaced for a chance to showcase the entire quartet, Stephens embracing the full potential (and weirdness) of the EWI, Anthony Fung making the best of every possible drum fill, and that paradoxical sense that this feels familiarly like nothing one has heard before. The only song on the album that features Stephens on the familiar soprano saxophone is “Roly Poly Universe,” which feels like an anchor for every song surrounding it.

While the execution of this material is exquisite, revolving the bulk of the music around the EWI is a big pill to swallow. The rest of the quartet is the spoonful of sugar that helps this medicine go down, but one still can’t ignore the fact that it’s medicine, that being futuristic also literally means being ahead of the present time.

On Sale Now
December 2022
Kenny Barron
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