Russian pianist and composer Masha Stepina studied at the Rostov College of Arts and at the S.V. Rakhmaninov Conservatory in her home country. She taught theory, music history, piano and jazz ensemble at the Rostov College before giving up teaching and moving to Holland to pursue a jazz performance career. There, she earned degrees from the Rotterdam Conservatory and from the Maastricht/Tilburg Conservatory. Today, in addition to her jazz work, she is a piano accompanist at the Rotterdam Dance Academy of Contemporary Art.
Stepina’s playing is firmly rooted in the tradition of the contemporary jazz trio as established by pianist Bill Evans, but reinterpreted through Vince Guaraldi. Like Guaraldi, her playing is full of delightfully warm lines and her compositions reflect a serious nature. Accompanied exceptionally admirably by two veterans, the trio has a life and introspective fire to it reminiscent of much of today’s European jazz. The group floats more than drives, but this only adds to the exceptionally pretty transitions they make between solos. When Wim Essed’s perfect bass solo ends on "Bylina" it doesn’t end so much as transition, because Stepina then picks up exactly where Essed left off. They couldn’t be more in-sync with each other’s formal and harmonic designs.Stepina has a stark quality to her playing that tends, while not towards the minimalistic, definitely towards the intellectual. Sometimes this works, as on "White Spaces" where her classical training shows itself most fully, and sometimes not, as on the reinterpretation of the Russian folksong "Ej Uhnem," better known as the "Volga Boat Song."If there is a glaring fault with the recording it is in the sound quality itself. The drums sound like they were recorded in the corner of a concrete block room, and then with the microphones placed at too great a distance from the drum kit. The piano’s sonic qualities as well leave something to be desired. The unfortunate result is the listener feels a disconnect from the music a more intimate recording quality would have afforded. It will be interesting to follow this young Russian woman’s career in the jazz world.