The new album from Melbourne's Tim Stevens Trio, Mickets, a set mostly of original pieces, builds on a composed and improvised repertoire developed over a 5-year collaboration. A return to written forms is no move backwards, for the benefits of collective spontaneous improvisation explored on Three friends in winter (2005) are evident in the group's thoughtful and attentive interplay.
Stevens explores idiosyncratic harmonic structures and extends his lyrical melodic style. Whether it's the groovy 'Rufus redux', or the gently expressive 'Prologue-like', the tunes draw the band to regions of mutual exchange and varied expression. Stevens (piano), Ben Robertson (double bass) and Dave Beck (drums), draw on a rich, wide-ranging palette of instrumental sound and ensemble texture. 'Our little systems', with its more complicated written structure, gives way to challenging material for improvisation, yet the sound is unhurried and unflustered, ideas flow in logical succession and a solid overall structure develops. The openness of the ballad '...the body desolate as a staircase' might have challenged the patience of many players, but maximum expression is drawn from space itself, and each sound is considered, compelling.
For followers of Stevens' compositions since Nine open questions, or earlier CDs with Browne-Haywood-Stevens (King, Dude and Dunce; Sudden in a shaft of sunlight), these things are not surprising. But the development of his compositional voice and of this trio in dealing with his pieces is an ongoing process of refinement; Mickets shows that the trio resists temptation to repeat itself, rather, it continues to seek challenge.