Matthew Stevens ‘Woodwork’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

matthew-stevensBritish guitarist Matthew Stevens has come up with a strong album that sounds as though it has come straight out of middle America and is very much in the fusion territory of both Pat Metheny and Steps Ahead. Surrounded by some impressive young musicians, this is a group on a mission and consequently the music has an inner urgency to it. This is illustrated from the very beginning on ‘Blasted’ where the ensemble work is impressive and reaches a thrilling crescendo. In particular the rapport between leader and pianist Gerald Clayton (better known for his participation on acoustic recordings elsewhere) is highly effective one and the virtuosic musings of Stevens combine beautifully with the tasteful piano of Clayton on ‘Star L.A.’ Of note is the tasty Jaco-inspired bass line from Vicente Archer. Now based in New York, Matthew Stevens has performed with some of the cream of American musicians including Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lynne Carrington and veteran fusion drummer Harvey Mason. If Pat Metheny Group circa 1985 is your bag, then the intricacy of the guitar work on the title track will prove to be a revelation and the piece is notable for the rotating drum beat pattern and a lovely piano solo. In addition to Metheny. Stevens has taken in the influence of Bill Frisell and it is the latter who is most evoked on the dissonant guitar sounds of ‘Gut check’ which has something of a blues-rock meets folk guitar quality. The bubbling, percussive-led (courtesy of Paolo Stagnaro) features guitarist and pianist in tandem. Overall, this album has an authentic American feel with Weather Report, Steps and Metheny all weaved into the mix to good effect. Could Matthew Stevens just be the next John McLaughlin for the twenty-first century waiting to happen? Watch this space and see how his music evolves over time.

Tim Stenhouse