Guitarist Jamie Stewardson approaches modern jazz composition with the kind of expertise that comes from dedicated study. A master's degree in jazz composition from the New England Conservatory and studies with John Abercrombie, Joe Maneri and Mick Goodrick have prepared him well.
Jhaptal, his second recording as leader, features nine of the guitarist's compositions, interpreted by his quintet with a mellow underlining. Jhaptal is a frequently used ten-beat rhythmic cycle, or "tal, in Northern India. On the title track, you can feel the exotic rhythmic pulse as it drives the ensemble over a smooth landscape.
There are a few twists and turns, but for the most part, Stewardson's session flows evenly with a crystal clear persuasion. Like bubbles in your glass of champagne, his musical themes advance linearly with a pleasant afterglow. Olive Oil features a hip shuffle that flows with a slightly dark harmony and plenty of hip-shakin' enthusiasm. But the session remains laid back. "Rest Area has a suspenseful theme that turns playful and leisurely. One would have to consider that this rest area may be located in New Orleans or the Caribbean.
As its title suggests, the melodic lines of Combinatoriality wrap themselves in little dazzling circles. However, following the album's motif, the music is allowed to gently ebb and flow, maintaining a consistent undercurrent of smooth vibrations.
Jazz criticism over the past sixty years has maintained that many performances are either too edgy or too smooth. With the liquid texture of his blues-based guitar performance and the consistent shuffle of his ensemble's interpretations, Stewardson has come up with an equable solution. Following the middle road, he pumps just enough high-octane energy into this modern mainstream program to set his smooth-flowing musical landscape free.
Personnel: Jamie Stewardson: guitar; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Alexei Tsiganov: vibraphone; John Hebert: bass; George Schuller: drums.