By Bill Milkowski | Published January 2021
Saxophonist Dayna Stephens has responded with a number of triumphs since recovering from a rare kidney disease, including the release of Gratitude in 2017 and topping the Rising Star Tenor Saxophone category in the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll. But Right Now! Live At The Village Vanguard, an ambitious two-disc live set, is his crowning achievement. Along with expanded versions of originals from the 2020 album Liberty and the 2007 album The Timeless Now, Stephens contributes several new pieces here.
Demonstrating a warm, wistful tone on tenor during the medium-tempo swinger “Ran,” turning to alto for the breezy, harmonically shifting “Faith Leap,” Stephens also soars on soprano during the hypnotic “Tarifa,” underscored by Gregory Hutchinson’s crisp polyrhythms. No one since Michael Brecker has explored as much on the EWI as Stephens demonstrates during the adventurous “Blakonian Groove” (dedicated to drummer Johnathan Blake) and the atmospheric “Radio-Active Earworm.” The band hits an easy, interactive chemistry on the kinetic opener “Smoking Gun” (based on Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence”) and maintains that allegiance to swinging on other bop-fueled vehicles like “Contagious,” “You Are Me Blues” and “Loosy Goosy.” Recorded in a packed, pre-pandemic Village Vanguard during January 2019—replete with exuberant cheers from the audience—Right Now! reminds us of just how much we all miss the experience of live music.
Right Now! Live At The Village Vanguard: Smoking Gun; Tarifa; Ran; Contagious; Radio-Active Earworm; Faith Leap; Lesson One; Loosy Goosy; Planting Flowers; JFK International; You Are Me Blues; The Beginning Of An Endless Happy Monday; Blakonian Groove. (49:24/50:43)
Personnel: Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, EWI; Aaron Parks, piano; Ben Street, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.