Label: Self produced, 2018
Personnel - Walter Smith III: tenor saxophone; Larry Grenadier: acoustic bass; Bill Stewart: drums.
The heightened sense of musicality displayed by drummer Bill Stewart is vividly felt on Band Menu, a trio album where saxophone, bass, and drums live in artistic communion. The bandleader, whose name immediately brings John Scofield groups and Pat Metheny Trio to mind due to their fruitful associations, gets together with bassist Larry Grenadier, an old rhythm mate, and saxophonist Walter Smith III, who first recorded with the drummer in 2015 on Danny Grissett’s The In-Between.
The title track opens the session with melody, simmering in a 4/4 reduced pressure. Bringing further motivic energy and embracing a funk rock glow, “F U Donald” is a politically mordant, rhythmically enticing piece, which is pretty suggestive of Stewart’s political position in the face of America’s current situation.
Grenadier and Stewart dive into swinging virtuosity on “Think Before You Think”, one of the drummer's earliest pieces, and “Good Goat”, both stylish neo-bop statements that thrive with Smith’s fleet discourses filled with tempered tonal glides, Grenadier’s confident phrasing within the groove, and Stewart’s pulsating excursions, whether expressed over a vamp or aggregated into the final theme.
“Hair and Teeth” is an amiable, grooving, and unfaltering jazz funk that opposes to its adjacent number, “Invocation”, earnestly shaped with modal balladic contours. On the latter, Grenadier’s delicate extemporization comes across with Smith’s melody at the very end, and they naturally coalesce to a fully integrated finale. The following composition, “Modren”, shifts mood and pace once again, and Stewart soars, appending vigorous rim shots and inventive beats for a multi-timbral feast.
While Bill Evans’ “Re: Person I Knew” was a great choice for the repertoire, here recuperated as a celestial contemplation that verges on the magical, Smith enriches the song lineup with his “Apollo”, a post-bop marvel included in his 2014 CD Still Casual and the longest tune on the record. The manner in which saxophone and bass are conducted almost makes us hear the chords coloring the skeletal core of the song. Scintillating drumming keeps them company.
Stewart’s efficiency and exceptional taste are everywhere, whether when he hits the drums with roiling emotion or when slows down to a relaxed pace. He is a drummer with big ears, who categorically makes his co-workers sound better.
02 – F U Donald ► 03 - Re: Person I Knew ► 08 - Apollo