Dayna Stephens, Peace (Sunnyside)
With blissful slowness, Stephens explores ballads in the company of superior sidemen. On soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, he plumbs the emotional and harmonic content of 11 songs. Among them are Horace Silver’s title tune, Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke,” two Ennio Morriconne film themes and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Zingaro.” In “Body and Soul, with spare accompaniment by Larry Grenadier’s bass, Stephens’ baritone playing emphasizes the brilliance of Johnny Green’s melody. The two are equally effective on “Moonglow.” Grenadier, pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Eric Harland enrich “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” On tenor, Stephens gives Astor Piazzolla’s tango “Oblivion” a thoughtful straight reading of the melody and a rangy improvisation, with striking solos by Grenadier and guitarist Julian Lage. Engineered fades on two tracks seem like copouts, but they are minor flaws in the album’s charm.