Saturday, January 20, 2018

Phil Stewart: Introducing Phil Stewart - Melodius Drum (CELLAR LIVE February 9, 2018)

Too often, over the last twenty years or so, jazz has drifted from the rhythmic hipness of the blues-drenched, dance-inflected tenacity of its origins.

Regardless of ambitions toward artistic seriousness in multiple shapes and iterations, jazz began as good time fun entertainment is driven by propulsive allure. Its fundamental identity never strayed too far from an incisive swing.

No matter what name was hung on it, jazz was a music of surging uplift. Listen to Pops late-’20s sessions, Earl Hines, Bechet, Ellington, Lunceford, Basie and the astonishing depth of melodic brilliance and percussive joy that emerged when Monk and Diz, Bird and Roach revamped expressive possibilities. Bud Powell galvanized that revolution. It’s not a stretch to say that jazz gained full maturity in the era that explored tonal, metrical and harmonic options at Minton’s in the early ’40s.

This album introduces an astute percussionist in the line of Max Roach, Art Taylor, Philly Joe Jones and Louis Hayes . . . PHIL STEWART. This is his professional recorded debut, but anyone paying attention here locks into the explicit grooves delineated across this disc – sharp and beguiling, more seductive than admonitory – that carve understated trenches, each inviting welcome.

Stewart is the sort of leader who goads and teases, His beckoning rhythmic clarity shines an unobtrusive laser somewhere out beyond. That’s a good trick. Vernel Fournier made a career of such prescient stealth in his time with Ahmad Jamal. So did Jo Jones with Basie and Ed Thigpen with Oscar Peterson. Those with this album nearby probably know Phil’s brother Grant, one of the most lyrical, flat out joyful tenor saxophonists on the scene. I regard Grant as one of the three or four essential players on his instrument at present. On Bud Powell’s Dance of the Infidels, Grant takes the first sax solo. On George Coleman’s Apache, a revision of the classic blowing vehicle, Cherokee, Grant lets loose. His noir peek-a-boo swagger on Josh Benko’s The Sumo brings out a previously suppressed Charlie Rouse vibe from Grant’s willing

Monkishness. Gordon Jenkin’s chestnut, This Is All I Ask, reveals amor’s compelling amoroso. Joe Magnarelli’s trumpet virtuosity brings rare octane to the feel underway: a horn that carries its own message while, without derivation, invoking steadfast others . . . in this instance, Booker Little, Stu Williamson and Kenny Wheeler. Notice, too, Chris Byars’ sax along with Grant on Infidels and Apache. More to the point, Byars digs in with serious ferocity on his own tune. The Doctor Is In as well as on Sacha Perry’s jaunty recollection of Minton’s jam scene, Erratic. A final word about Phil Stewart’s inaugural album: Sadik Hakim’s long mis-attributed line, Eronel, recalls the impish flair and cheerful outlook of the era that brought Minton’s to the fore and, with it, bop’s intrepid self-confidence. Paul Sikive’s arch bass pulse drives this foxy supple ride.

Perhaps the subtle genii in this masterful convivium are the nimble brilliance of Sacha Perry’s effortless magnificence. This is not routine piano work . . . it demands careful witness. Play this album. Then punch up the concluding blues, Livin’ With Hobson, once more.

01 Manteca
02 Dance Of The Infidels
03 Far Sure
04 The Sumo
05 Erratic
06 This Is All I Ask
07 Apache
08 Eronel
09 The Doctor Is In
10 Livin With Hobson

Phil Stewart drums
Grant Stewart alto & tenor saxophone
Chris Byars tenor saxophone(tracks, 2, 5, 7, 9)
Joe Magnarelli trumpet (tracks 1, 2, 7)
Sascha Perry piano
Paul Sikivie bass

Recorded at Church Street School for Music and Art on July 2, 2017 by Paul Sikivie