“Those who already know Tim Stevens’s work will be delighted by this release. Shelley Scown’s many fans from way back will be reminded that they miss her.”
Tim Stevens is a special piano player. It seems to me that most of the notes he plays are related to those which precede them and lead, apparently inevitably, to those that follow. This is no small thing, especially when you remember that most of the notes are improvised. Realising that he is an improviser, so ‘lives on the edge’ in his art, it makes his playing just that more wonderful.
This album of ten tunes mingles six of Stevens’s originals with four ‘covers’ of songs by others. The material was recorded at two sessions in the ABC Southbank studios a long time ago, in the year 2000. Shelley Scown’s pure voice is beautifully complemented by the quality of her accompanist’s touch on the piano. Why the recordings were not released for so long is anybody’s to guess as Stevens and Scown complement one another so well. I suppose that both artists had many other things to do and just did not get around to releasing a recording of the sessions.
The album opens with The View from the Desk, a Stevens original piece for the piano in which he opens with what initially sounded like a ‘tone row’ then settles into a composition that features the use of pedal notes and chords, although it somehow never loses sight of the initial sequence of pitch material. It is almost as if he sat down at the instrument and began to play whatever sounded interesting. The initial low F# is never far away and sometimes forms the pedal note for the harmony and melody. The piece sounds very like folk music and I did think for a time that it was a tune I had heard but could not identify. I decided that Stevens had created the atmosphere of folk music, despite his introduction suggesting that he started in a genre removed from where he ended. This suggests that he has absorbed many musical stimuli and has melded them into his particular style of performance.
The title track, This Autumn Year, is the second on the album. Its composition was a collaboration between the performers with music by Stevens and lyrics provided by Scown. It is a captivating modern song in which the lyrics fit the melody like a hand in a glove. The first of the four ‘covers’ follows it. The intrinsic beauty of What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? sparks another super piano solo from Stevens.
Sooty’s Return is a solo piano composition and was named to celebrate the return of Allan Browne’s family dog after an absence. There is an almost Jelly Roll Morton quality about this jaunty, joyous tune and it is one of my favourites on the record. Might it have been inspired by some music of the Red Onions band that occupied Stevens’s interest in the late 1990s?
The piano soloing on the ‘covers’ is revealing. I had not previously heard Stevens improvising over chord changes constructed by others. That’s All is an example of such a track and he acquits himself very well. Another such track is Never Let Me Go, a lovely song that is presented most sensitively by Scown as well as drawing a great piano solo from Stevens. If I Only Had a Brain from The Wizard of Oz rounds out the set in a bright, attractive mood.
Quite Like Lightning is a modern ballad about falling in love for which Scown provided a lyric to one of Stevens’s pieces.
Music For Meredith and The Thurible and the Club are impressionistic solo piano pieces full of information fed by the pianist’s eclectic musical background. The latter-named piece shows the more aggressive side of Stevens’s technique while Music for Meredith reveals some of the composer’s listening. He has admitted to immersing himself in Keith Jarrett’s recorded performances during his student days. For a full appreciation of Stevens’s performing, I recommend reading some of his writing about music that he has so generously included on his website. He communicates well in language too.
The album is available as a digital download from Bandcamp. It is important in at least two ways: as a recording of an under-recorded vocalist (Scown) paired with an accompanist of exceptional sensitivity (Stevens), as a record of some very good early compositions by one of our best jazz composers and most articulate musicologists. Those who already know Tim Stevens’s work will be delighted by this release, as I was. For those less aware of his capabilities, it provides a timely introduction that should encourage them to explore his more recent recordings of his own compositions, some of which have been reviewed in past editions of this magazine. The wonderful Shelley Scown is another powerful incentive to acquire the recording.
This Autumn Year