Sunday, September 13, 2015

Grant Stewart - Trio (Cellar Live Records, 2015)

On this album tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart looks at jazz compositions from the ‘50s and ‘60s, in the company of bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Philip Stewart. They are able to conjure a wide range of emotions from the classic material without sounding anachronistic or timebound themselves. “A Time to Smile” opens the album with a bright and comfortable medium tempo swing feel. Stewart has a confident saxophone style and leads the band in a modern fashion, before letting go for a fine bass solo and then returning to trade ideas with the drummer and taking the tune out. Propulsive bass and drums launch “Everything I Love” with Stewart responding with a darker saxophone tone, moving from short, choppy phrases to longer lines that are string out behind some wonderful bass playing. “I’ll Never Be the Same” is a lush ballad with Stewart building and developing a very large and all encompassing saxophone tone. Patient bass and subtle brushes provide excellent accompaniment and have fine solo spots of their own. The band comes back together at the end developing a haunted ballad of late night emotional longing. Led by thick bass and drums, “This is New” allows Stewart to move his saxophone forward and lead the group to a strong and deep performance. That thick carpet of bass and drums allows him to dig in and really blow, then bowing out for a well earned bass and drums section, and then re-entering for another saxophone and drums sign off. “I Surrender Dear” is a standard ballad that is taken in a patient and thoughtful manner led by soft saxophone and brushes. Well articulated bass and percussion leads to a respectful rendition of this song and another masterful bass solo before both Stewarts return to bring the song to a close. A punchy propulsive feel permeates “Uranus” where a fast and choppy beginning resolves into uptempo swing with nicely engaged saxophone. The full band works well together with Stweart’s steely saxophone in the lead, before Sikivie has another opportunity to shine, soloing at length and bringing the saxophone and drums back to the ending melody. While the trio is certainly not reinventing the wheel here, they are a fine group producing dignified and accessible music that will certainly find an audience among mainstream jazz fans. Grant Stewart works well without another instrument on the front line with him but Paul Sikivie was a revelation to me because his bass playing, both supporting and soloing was just excellent. Trio -

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