Pluto Juice – with Dayna Stephens & Anthony Fung
Wednesday, August 24$25 – $35
Seating times: 7:00pm & 8:30pm. Doors open 30 minutes early.
TICKET AVAILABILITY: IF SELECTED TICKETS ARE “SOLD OUT”, PLEASE CHECK AVAILABILITY FOR ANOTHER TIME AND ANOTHER SEATING TYPE
Black Cat JAZZ@theEDGE Summer Festival!! Presents: Pluto Juice – with Dayna Stephens & Anthony Fung
For nearly 15 years, having achieved international renown as a saxophonist (#1 Rising Star Tenor, 2019 Downbeat Critics Poll), Dayna Stephens has worked assiduously to create a musical voice on the Akai Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI). Following in the footsteps of Bob Mintzer and the late Michael Brecker, and like his EWI-exploring peers Morgan Guerin, Mark Shim and Seamus Blake, Stephens has featured the EWI in select contexts with his own bands, on Gilad Hekselman’s 2019 release Further Chaos and other projects. With Pluto Juice, co-led and co-produced by drummer and composer Anthony Fung, Stephens turns the spotlight fully on EWI for the first time, in an adventurous electric quartet setting with the stellar Canadian musicians Andrew Marzotto (guitar) and Rich Brown (bass).
One of the band’s first pieces, “Approaching Pluto,” was composed by Stephens when NASA’s New Horizons craft completed its long-awaited flyby of the dwarf planet in the summer of 2015. The music that followed was conceived specifically for the group, and the theme of space travel stuck. Stephens’ “Welcome to Our Snow Globe” leads off with a focus on Earth, while “Outskirts of Neptune” strives to capture the journey through the outermost solar system as Pluto grows momentously near. Fung’s “Pluto and Beyond” follows New Horizons past its final destination and further into the void, while two more Fung compositions, “Trial on Mars” and “Green Gargantua,” deal respectively with imagined conflict on other worlds and the unfathomably massive emptiness of a black hole. The writing, full of complexity, rhythmic urgency and sonic adventure, represents a thrilling new departure for the two co-leaders.
Fung, a Toronto native now based in Los Angeles, has two fine albums to his credit, Chronicles (2014) and Flashpoint (2018, awarded four stars in Downbeat). He first played with Stephens when called to sub on a trio gig at the LA club Sam First. Sparks flew right away, and Fung invited Stephens up to Toronto to pursue the EWI-driven collaboration that became Pluto Juice. “The first Pluto Juice gig in January 2019 was immediately awesome,” recalls Stephens, “and by the time we played the Toronto Jazz Festival we knew we had to record, because this was some serious s**t.”
The group takes full advantage of the EWI’s capabilities in creating what Stephens calls “a sea of infinity in terms of sound production.” Stephens employs synth interfaces, copious guitar pedals and other wares, imbuing Pluto Juice with a wealth of sonic color and mystery. The EWI has the unique advantage of being terra incognita, far more so than the tenor saxophone, Stephens notes: “There’s a lot less pressure, and you can really develop your own approach to it. It’s got eight octaves like a piano as opposed to two and a half on sax, so it’s a completely different universe.” The EWI can also function harmonically: you will often hear Stephens comping two-note dyads under Marzotto’s solos. “There’s an expression I’ve heard regarding tenor players, ‘You’ve got to fight for your sound,’ and that’s what I feel like I’m still doing on EWI,” he muses. “I’m still just getting started on this axe. The possibilities are so endless.” In fact, constant innovation in synth technology (physical modeling, wavetables, harmonizers, all too involved to attempt to explain here) assures that the possibilities are growing more endless still.
At times Stephens will tap into a lyrical woodwind tone, or conjure a broad open soundscape, or dig in with something reminiscent of a Hammond B3 with Leslie speaker. Or he’ll launch into gnarled, overdriven lines and phrases, equal parts John Scofield and some unknown instrument from the beyond.
The blend of EWI with Marzotto’s fluid guitar lines and celestial harmonies, and the supple rock solid feel of Brown and Fung, makes Pluto Juice all the more striking. “I’ve known Andrew since we were kids,” says Fung. “We went to Berklee together, he’s one of my closest buddies from Toronto. He had his own thing from the start and that’s why I love calling him for projects.” Rich Brown made waves as the original bassist of Andy Milne’s Dapp Theory and has done groundbreaking work as a leader with rinsethealgorithm, Abeng and the solo bass album Between Heaviness & Here. His effortless facility and deep tone help make Pluto Juice the captivating listen that it is.