BostonConcertReviews.com - Nelson Brill
The highlight of this evening’s excellent performances, however, had to be the short set by young Canadian jazz guitarist Andrew Marzotto and his trio: Jongkuk Kim (from Korea) on drums and Mats Sandahl (from Sweden) on bass. Marzotto displayed a fluid touch on his guitar that was fantastic, and he improvised with a sense of melodic freedom, rhythmic feel and choice of chords and colors that was astonishing. Marzotto is primed for the big time and he is definitely a guitarist to keep an eye on. His band mates were sensational as well: Kim is a young master of creating decaying sheets of sound from his creative cymbal and snare work and the lanky Sandahl knows how to quietly move underneath the flow of his partners to keep the propulsion going.
“Andrew Marzotto is a guitarist worthy of your attention and certainly grabs it throughout the album, especially his lively solo “outskirts of Neptune” or the penultimate track, “approaching Pluto,” with an easy groove that rises to unexpected heights”
From All About Jazz review of Pluto Juice Debut Album, Glen Astarita, August 12 2021
The EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) was popularized in the 1980s by the late sax great Michael Brecker, and allegedly is a difficult instrument to learn because the buttons are touch sensitive and its sound bank possesses the characteristics of multiple woodwind instruments. Moreover, the EWI contains a controller and a sound module and is not simply an electronic sax device. But highly regarded saxophonist Dayna Stephens seems to have surmounted any hurdles and conveys a rather all-inclusive scope on this jazz fusion tinted production.
As one might assume, the gist of this endeavor is cloaked within cosmological notions, as Stephens extracts just about all the possibilities (sounds and tonalities) via his expert knowledge and applications of the EWI. Moreover, the quintet navigates through gradually changing currents and solid building blocks. However, it's not just an album that supplies a seemingly endless stream of soloing, and it is not hypertensive, although the musicians merge into an imposing presence with mutable jazz and rock flavors amid a gamut of sweltering surges and jaunty exchanges.
"Pluto and Beyond" is launched with the leader's swirling with sinewy lines, while drummer Anthony Fung adds oomph to a mid-tempo groove, driven home by guitarist Andrew Marzotto's spirited soloing. It all equates to a rather soothing but deterministic means of constructing a melody, as the mood wavers between bluesy melodrama, ominous drum and bass cadenzas, along with the frontline's deft improvisations and reengineering processes, also evident on "Zoomed Out."
Indeed, the band packs a KO punch, and bassist Rich Brown often harmonizes with Stephens during melodic intervals, and the latter's sputtering EFX and dense explorations of his eight-octave instrument. On "Approaching Pluto" they churn out a slow rock pulse, emphasized by the drummer's slashing cymbals, and slightly tempered by the guitarist's initial installation of pathos, yet contrasted by speed-demon licks during the bridge, where they blossom, and then prepare the mothership for the descent back to common ground.
From Pluto Juice review in Glide Magazine
July 16, 2021
Saxophonist Dayna Stephens, the #1 Rising Star-Tenor in the 2019 Downbeat Critics Poll, is mostly known for playing multiple reeds in both contemporary and straight-ahead formats, only occasionally using an EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and/or playing in fusion settings. Yet, this quartet, Pluto Juice, powered by Stephens’ extensive use of the EWI and the propulsive drumming of co-leader Anthony Fung, take us on an unexpected spacey, fully electric cosmic journey. Canadian musicians- guitarist Andrew Marzotto and bassist Rich Brown round out the quartet.
Stephens, of course is not the first acclaimed saxophonist to embrace the EWI. Bob Mintzer, the late Michael Brecker, Sun Ra Arkestra leader Marshall Allen, and peers such as Mark Shim, Seamus Blake, and Morgan Guerin have all taken this path. Stephens is excited about what he feels are limitless possibilities for the instrument that has eight octaves like a piano, can be played like a harmonica, and can plug into an endless combination of synths, pedals, harmonizers, and the like. Relative to the two and half octaves of a saxophone, it offers new territory fertile for exploration. To be fair, there are a few places where Stephens plays the soprano sax and others where he treats the EWI as a conventional woodwind instrument, but mostly he soars into the outer realms using it like a synth or electronic keyboard as the fusion keyboard and guitar masters do.
Pluto Juice is not just making cosmic music. They base their concept on NASA’s New Horizons craft flyby of the named planet in 2015 and space travel specifically as connoted by the song titles. The opener, Stephens’ “Welcome to Our Snow Globe” focuses as earth as one can envision the spacecraft drifting further away from its home planet. The music is languorous, connoting suspension in Fung’s “Pluto and Beyond” as the spacecraft enters a mysterious void with no planets in sight. Stephens’ “Outskirts of Neptune” follows, emulating the journey and introducing short EWI and guitar bursts that signal the excitement of nearing their destination. On “Rolly Polly Universe” Stephens plays mostly a gorgeously toned soprano, and with Marzotto’s chording, they conjure that classic Weather Report sound.
Fung’s presence looms large on his own frenzied “Trial on Mars” and “Green Gargantua,” which deal with imagined conflicts while the intervening Stephens’ “Zoomed Out” features keyboards of Pete Rende, and extensive Marzotto soloing to further color the soundscape. “Approaching Pluto” has an atmospheric backdrop and builds in intensity and excitement as one envisions the spacecraft positioning itself to view the planet. Marzotto’s fluid, rapid-run guitar lines mesh beautifully with the colorful textures that Stephens creates throughout, while Fung and Brown provide a usually heavy jazz-rock fusion underpinning. The brief “Lies That Tell the Truth” closes with Stephens and Marzotto floating above Fung and Brown’s insistent rhythm.
This is an auspicious debut and remarkable in the sense that while only one track contains a true keyboard, Stephens ventures into so many electronic realms on the EWI that one might think that this is a keyboard-driven effort.
From big take over.com review of Pluto Juice
July 15, 2021
Led by acclaimed saxophonist Dayna Stephens and drummer Anthony Fung, Pluto Juice explores two concepts on its self-titled debut: space travel and the EWI, or electronic wind instrument. Having already earned a stellar reputation for his acoustic work, Stephens now takes on the EWI with the same melodic flair and improvisational fire, using guitar pedals and the instrument’s huge range to coax sounds out of it no sax could make, but played in a style only a sax can duplicate.
The spacey psychedelia issuing out of his electronic horn tracks with the theme of galactic exploration, providing a thick-toned intro and rubbery riffs for Stephens’ “Outskirts of Neptune,” duetting with guitarist Andrew Marzotto’s own spiraling lines. The saxophonist goes even further out on Fung’s “Trial on Mars,” using a distorted tone to cut through the airy arrangement, and digs straight into distortion for the drummer’s roiling “Green Gargantua.” Steeped in funk, Fung and bassist Rich Brown keep the rhythms in motion regardless of tempo, letting Stephens and Marzotto have plenty of support for their star-reaching excursions.
“Lies That Tell the Truth” breaks protocol thematically, but closes the album out with the same tasty blend of acid funk and spiritual jazz. Here’s hoping that Pluto Juice is not the first time this particular ensemble decides to travel the spaceways.