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Jazz trio’s longevity keeps it a step ahead

The Steve Koven Trio, with Steve Koven in the middle. He is flanked by Rob Clutton, left, and Anthony Michelli. HUGH SYME PHOTO

One of Canada’s longstanding jazz trios, has been performing, touring the world and recording together for more than two decades now, longer than many marriages.

The Steve Koven Trio went into His House-Innsbruck Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y., last May to record its 10th CD, Beyond the C, which was recently released Canada wide. It was co-produced by two-time Grammy nominee Roman Klun, who’s worked with dozens of prominent jazz and pop artists, including Ornette Coleman, Norah Jones, Phil Ramone and the Spin Doctors.

The trio’s members, pianist Koven, bassist Rob Clutton and drummer Anthony Michelli, met and played together for the first time 23 years ago in an Ethiopian restaurant on Bloor Street West in Toronto. “I felt there was a really great connection between the three of us,” Koven said. The group has endured because of the respect and admiration the members have for one another, he added.

Although Koven writes most of the trio’s original material, he doesn’t see himself as the group’s leader. “It’s a collective. It’s not just me telling them what to do. I present them with a piece of work and they contribute their creative insight,” he said.    


He credits the trio’s smooth and sophisticated interplay, evident on their latest recording, with the group’s longevity. “Like a marriage, after a while you know what the other person is thinking. When we’re playing live, we listen to each other, we respect each other. The mutual admiration allows us to create music that doesn’t seem like one person is challenging the other or fighting the other.”

He said that recording Beyond the C with the trio in Brooklyn last May was an amazing experience, adding that working “in an international studio with an award-winning producer really helped the overall energy and vibe of making the CD, which reflects in the music and in the production.”

While they were recording in New York, the trio was fortunate enough to sign a worldwide digital distribution deal with Sony Music for Beyond the C and four of their past albums. “That will open some doors for us,” Koven said.

He composed the 11 tracks on Beyond the C, which he has dedicated to his mother, Florence, who died on June 2. The recording showcases some thrilling instrumental performances from all three players, beautiful melodies and songs capable of sweeping the listener away.

The CD opens with the title track, a tribute to Koven’s father, Irv, who plays jazz piano mostly in the key of C. Mist-ic, from Koven’s 2014 solo outing, Solo Retrospective, was inspired by the misty, magical beaches of New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island.

Ambrosia is a song of energy and life, while The Learned is a reflective tune that “takes you on an exploration that is driving and aggressive and then something that is calming,” Koven said.

The melodic and accessible Lily Love, dedicated to his wife, Lee-Anne Stewart, is getting airplay on CBC Radio. The tune Bathsheba is a tribute to a port on the east coast of Barbados, and Swamp Water Bullfrog is a blues with a New Orleans feel.

The trio has played in Merida, Mexico, and in his composition titled Merida, Koven captures the vibe of the place. Brooklyn was composed on the spot in the studio.

Waterfall is a mesmerizing song that “has a calmness, but it also has this hypnotic, trance-like beat going on,” he said. Moments, a rock ballad Koven wrote for his wife, was originally produced in his home in Toronto.

The trio’s CD-release concert dates are on Nov. 18 and 19 at Toronto’s Jazz Bistro, and they perform on Dec. 7 at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Kingston, Ont. Beyond the C and the trio’s past recordings can be purchased from stevekoven.com.

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