Bill Stewart - Band Menu

Label: Self produced, 2018

Personnel - Walter Smith III: tenor saxophone; Larry Grenadier: acoustic bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

bill-stewart-band-menu.jpg

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.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 – F U Donald ► 03 - Re: Person I Knew ► 08 - Apollo


Larry Goldings / Peter Bernstein / Bill Stewart - Toy Tunes

Label: Pirouet, 2018

Personnel – Larry Goldings: hammond organ; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Bill Stewart: drums.

larry-goldings-toy-tunes.jpg

The trio of jazz organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, has started their adventures back in 1991 with the album Intimacy of the Blues, at that time led by the organist . Toy Tunes, a collective effort, is their twelfth album, and like has been happening before, includes originals penned by all the three musicians, jazz standards, and other remarkable compositions by creative minds such as Wayne Shorter and Carla Bley.

The trio opens the session with “Fagen”, an easy-going ride marked by an affable melody. Goldings dedicates it to the adult contemporary rock singer and keyboardist Donald Fagen, one of the two co-founders of Steely Dan. One can enjoy a sweet relaxation in this song, which leisurely unfolds from the smooth theme to dedicated improvisations by the organist and the guitarist.

Stewart’s “Don’t Ever Call Me Again” was first included on Scott Colley Quartet’s 1997 album Subliminal, getting the first-rate treatment here as it shapes into a sultry groovy song conform to a 6/4-meter signature. The melody, empathically expressed with playful irony by Bernstein, is placed on the top of the rich organ harmonies and contagious drumming pulse.

Bernstein is a masterful colorist, both harmonically and melodically, and his rubato introductory section of “Lullaby For B”, a waltz he wrote for his son, carries shades of Jim Hall in the chord voicings. 

Both the standard “I’m In The Mood For Love” and Charles Strouse’s “Maybe”, a number from his Broadway musical Annie, follow similar structural alignments, with Goldings designing the A sections of the theme and Bernstein taking care of the Bs. The latter piece spreads a swinging perfume that favors the rounded post-bop trajectories of the guitarist. After the respective improvisations, guitarist and organist team up by alternating eight bars of logical, creative phrasing before Stewart’s tasteful attacks.

Shorter’s “Toy Tune” is presented with less 30 seconds than the original version, which dated from 1980, and comes wrapped in the same sophisticated harmonic complexity. However, I missed the sound of the saxophone and the tune didn’t touch me as much as Carla Bley’s “And Now The Queen”, a beautiful four-bar melody reiterated with a mutable expressionistic touch. This song, tackled many times by pianist Paul Bley in solo mode, loses its reflective nicety in detriment of a futuristic organ-driven experimentalism. It never loses its achingly emotional quality, though.

With an incredible facility of adaptation, the trio dynamically convenes a set of jazz compositions for all tastes, treating each note, chord, and pulsation with a fleshed-out sense of purpose.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Fagen ► 02 - Don’t Ever Call Me Again ► 05 - And Now The Queen