Grant Stewart is a young Canadian tenor saxophonist with a big, burly sound and plenty of drive. On Grant Stewart + 4, he demonstrates his command of both his instrument and the hard bop idiom. He swings without pretense and his top-shelf sidemen move things along with considerable brio.
Stewart's improvisations are marked by long, rolling lines and heated swing. He displays a cohesive sense of invention even at the fastest tempos, as on "Limehouse Blues," for example. And while Stewart is deeply indebted to Sonny Rollins, he's clearly looking for his own approach, making interesting and original note choices throughout. His flaring solo on "Lonely Town" is especially good.
Guitarist Joe Cohn is also a big part of the success of this album, through sleek, clean solos and clever arrangements, which serve to lift these proceedings well above the usual blowing date. Cohn is highlighted on "Yesterdays," on which he interacts sensitively with Stewart, and where his arrangement adds a fresh dimension to the oft-played chestnut. Pianist Bill Charlap nearly steals the album. His improvising is absolutely fresh and distinctive, using space to advantage, varying phrase lengths, and overall providing a classic reminder that jazz is, after all, supposed to be the sound of surprise.
In keeping with the sound of surprise, Grant Stewart + 4 successfully mines the tricky terrain of repertoire with rarely played songs, clever originals, and less conventional song treatments. "You Leave Me Breathless," for example, is played as an up-tempo romp, rather than a ballad. In fact, most of the program is played at fast and even faster tempos, and Stewart's cooking rhythm section nails it every time. Even at the fearsome speeds of "Limehouse Blues" and "You Leave Me Breathless," bassist Paul Gill and drummer Willie Jones III maintain solid, vibrant swing. Grant Stewart + 4 may not be innovative, but it is very, very good.
Personnel: Grant Stewart: tenor saxophone; Joe Cohn: guitar; Bill Charlap: piano; Paul Gill: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.