Album Review of
Michael Stephenson Meets Alexander Claffy with His Trio

Written by Joe Ross
November 9, 2021 - 6:35pm EST
Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star

Vocalist/saxophonist Michael Stephenson and bassist Alexander Claffy have been friends since age 13. With this collaboration, they bring their “Philly soul to the hallowed grounds of the Rudy Van Gelder Studio” in New Jersey.  Opening with “Sweet Lorraine,” Michael’s vocals establish a groovy setting over a fluid, walking bass line. Claffy’s trio also includes Julius Rodriguez (piano) and Itay Morchi (drums). Special guest trumpeter Benny Benack III also joined them at the session that took place on 21 Oct 2021.

Stephenson, also known by his stage name “Sonny Step,” is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has worked alongside acclaimed pop artists. With this project, Stephenson wanted to joyfully unveil the jazzy side of his artistry by presenting his take on several Great American Songbook classics, as well as go a bit beyond with some music of Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole and even a creative interpretation of Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart’s “Tennessee Waltz” for all you country fans.  Stephenson has a defining voice of breathtaking ability, with range and inflection that are able to capture many moods in his artistic expression. “Polka Dots & Moonbeams” offers a bluesy feeling with melancholy, while “Greenbacks” clearly taps the lyrics to tell a story, and Nat King Cole’s “For All We Know” provides an engaging message to close the album.

Stephenson’s ability as a multi-instrumentalist no doubt has influenced his ability to masterfully phrase his vocals like an instrument too. Ben Webster’s “Did You Call Her Today?” is a nice instrumental showpiece for solos by the tenor saxophonist and trumpeter. All in all, good stuff and tastefully rendered. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)