Memphis: The Fonda/Stevens Group
Joe Fonda – bass, composer
Michael Jefry Stevens – piano, composer
Herb Robertson – trumpet
Harvey Sorgen – drums
1. In The Whitecage
2. For My Brother
3. Looking For The Lake
4. Changing Tides
5. The Path
6. Yes This Is It
7. There Is A Very Fine Line Between Your Life And Mine
8. Whale Majesty
9. Memphis Ramble
10. Break Song

Playscape Recordings officially welcomes The Fonda/Stevens Group to its roster with the release of Memphis (PSR#033108), the eminent ensemble's 11th recording. Only the fourth studio release in the band's two-decade existence, it was recorded at the end of a week-long March 2008 U.S. tour.

The record takes its name from pianist Michael Jefry Stevens' composition, "Memphis Ramble," one of ten tracks documented here for the first time. The subject matter of the piece, which features a spoken word section developed spontaneously during its first performance, deals with his move from Brooklyn to Memphis to be with his wife, who teaches poetry at Rhodes College.

Coincidentally, it was the poetry of the city's name that appealed to Fonda. "When Mike suggested we call the record Memphis," he recalls, "I just liked the sound of the word – the poetry of it. And, Memphis is a musical melting pot, just like The Fonda/Stevens Group."

Playscape Recordings has built a very nice niche for itself as a source of well thought out, open ended modern jazz. Strong and open ended interplay made this a successful album. The music melds a number of influences from free jazz to ballads and R&B and blends them into a nicely interwoven whole.
— Tim Niland, Music and More
They're one of those groups that, aside from boasting superb individual players, has a group sound that is emotionally rich, a bit mischievous, and draws from multiple jazz idioms in a way that could hardly displease any fan...this is yet another strong release from a band you should love. These guys are fantastic.
— Jason Bivins, Cadence
After 20 years of musical partnership, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda, drummer Harvey Sorgen and trumpeter Herb Robertson have developed a rich chemistry. On Memphis, their 11th recording, the quartet surges with energy – equal parts Stevens' proclivity for aggresive vamps, Robertson's slippery slalom runs, and a wrecking crew of a rhythm duo. When the mood turns somber individual members find ways of keeping the tension high, whether its Fonda's abrasive arco on "For My Brother" or the free segments that alternate with Stevens' pretty theme on "Whale Majesty".
— James Hale, Signal to Noise
Even when the charts seem straight ahead they can be subverted by Robertson in particular, who always avoids the obvious route between A and B. By contrast, Stevens is a melodist at heart. In the engine room, Fonda and Sorgen...pick up on shifts in rhythm and tempo so smoothly that it's only when paying close attention that their audacious command is fully appreciated. "Break Song" makes for a driving closer which sums up the merits of this fine disc: intelligent writing, strong solos and lively ensemble interplay.
— John Sharpe,
As ever, Stevens is the more immediately accessible melodist, delivering an exquisite line on "For My Brother" and on the (near) title tune "Memphis Ramble"; he moved to Tennessee seven years ago for family reasons, a situation that doesn't seem to have had any negative effect on the Fonda-Stevens family, and perhaps has even strengthened it. The delightful thing is that each writes so exquisitely for the other. Fonda's intro on "For My Brother" is rich and resonant and his solo on "Changing Tides", another Stevens chart, allows him to show off the same iron fingers that anchored the Braxton Ninetet.
— Brian Morton, Jazz Journal
Sharing an aesthetic similarity born of their authors' longstanding rapport, these elaborate compositions flow seamlessly from one to another. Skirting the edges of tradition, they employ ambiguous harmonies, modulate time signatures, and incorporate extended techniques without ever completely abandoning conventional forms. Imbued with excellent group interplay and an expansive approach towards jazz tradition, Memphis presents the Fonda/Stevens Group in an intimate studio environment with the sonic clarity they rightfully deserve.
— Troy Collins,
Me and fellow employee Mike Panico have been playing this promo nonstop since we got it a couple of months ago. It is that good! What makes this band great is that they can swing their asses off, go out, come back and stop on a dime. Their jubilant spirit is infectious.
— Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
...a fine example of how a long established band can gel without becoming predictable, with many of its moves unforeseeable in advance. This helps to keep the music fresh, but it's the level of collective empathy that often takes it to another's clear on "Memphis Ramble" that the group had reached a level of understanding in excess of even its usual working relationship.
— Nic Jones,
The great thing about the band is its human warmth and musical openness. They can play AACM-like music ("In The Whitecage"), post-bop ("For My Brother"), blues, Stanko-esque melancholy ("Whole Majesty"), free improvisation ("Yes This Is It") as spontaneous chants ("Memphis Ramble") is fun, musically entertaining and interesting.
— Stef Gijssels, Free Jazz
...a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
— François Couture, Monsieur Delire