MJS Electric Band channels Miles, McLaughlin


A quick look at jazz pianist Michael Jefrey Stevens’ web page reveals the breadth and scope of his talents and interests. There are solo endeavors, seven international ensembles, and twice that number of local/regional projects that range from duos to septets.

What they have in common is Stevens’ deep knowledge of jazz in its myriad incarnations and a virtuosic level of musicianship from all the players involved. Drawing from the deep pool of talented local players, Stevens has assembled the MJS Electric Band, a fusion group that has presented White Horse Black Mountain audiences in the past with a blend of original work and earnest improvisation.

The ensemble returns to the venue on Thursday, March 24.

The term “fusion” is problematic. Like “indie rock,” it’s been used to describe so many loosely related approaches that it has lost precision. In some jazz-lovers’ minds, it’s synonymous with the radio-friendly smooth jazz style that emerged around the same time.

However, the efforts of the MJS Electric Band focus on original music inspired by the more complex work of jazz fusion pioneers Weather Report, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and others. Compositional elements and distinctive melodies provide cohesion, but there’s considerable room for individual and collective improvisation within the framework.

In 2014, Stephens recruited a group of experienced and flexible players from the area for a Weather Report tribute show, and vibraphonist/percussionist Jason de Cristofaro along with bassist Zack Page have been carried over from that project.

With the addition of drummer Bill Berg and Tim Doyle on guitar, the group’s current incarnation took shape, and award-winning jazz violinist Christian Howes has recently added his pyrotechnics to the mix.

Fusion, not confusion

Who: MJS Electrict Band

When: 7:30 p.m. March 24

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door