Steph Richards

Take the Neon Lights
Birdwatcher Records 008

By Ken Waxman

Accomplished quartet music played and composed by Canadian trumpeter/flugelhornist Steph Richards who already excels in solo playing, Take the Neon Lights’ eight selections are melodic without neglecting timbral analysis and moving without being shackled to a beat. Ably assisted by pianist James Carney, bassist Sam Minaie and drummer Andrew Munsey, New York-based Richards still experiments with singular diversions like mouthpiece oscillations, rapid capillary dot-dashes and evacuated plunger tones. But these dissonant rejoinders often now vibrate within passionate tone poems.

Internal body tube metal may be audible on “Transitory (Gleams)” for instance, but after subtle piano chords meet supple brass tone outlines the result is a mellow chromatic showpiece. Featuring Carney’s keyboard shuffles and inner piano string plucks, Skull of Theatres extends the pianist’s mid-range voicing to meet Richards’ high-speed rubato trills plus plunger growls so that together the two settle into unpretentious swing in the tune’s second sequence, allowing the lines harden with more emphasis on bass and drums.

Richards’ experimental skills are highlighted on “Brooklyn Machine” where she manages double counterpoint, propelling brassy thrusts and leaking crafty smears from just her prepared trumpet in such a way that both sounds accompanying one another Still the well-constructed “Stalked by Tall Buildings” is the apex of the brass player’s art. The warm melody line is stretched as elevated trumpet tones squeeze beauty from repeated tongue twists as dramatic piano flourishes and truculent percussion pops maintain the melody’s ingenious fluidity.

-for The Whole Note April 2019