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Record Label Profiles

Sharp Nine Records

By Published: December 9, 2007

"For Buddy, it's about adventure. I've never heard him do things the same way. Montgomery, whom he notes was self-taught, is also distinctive because as he started on vibes "he plays piano very much like a vibes player. To know what that's like you'll just have to listen.

Speaking of listening, the other new September 2007 release is Stop Look & Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron. It's pianist Tardo Hammer's tribute to someone he appreciates. He didn't want to focus on another pianist's work as he felt that being a pianist himself that would be somewhat "redundant, but when Edelman suggested Dameron, "I thought it was a great idea. There's so much repertoire and it's very free-flowing and you can very much do your own thing with it. Dameron was really a composer of repertoire whether he played it or not. He's always been a hero of mine. His writing is brilliant. Starting with 'Hot House'—when he wrote it, in the time he wrote it, it just seems so visionary.

"He's making complex things but they're really composed of simple things, says Hammer of the pianist/composer who worked for and with Dizzy Gillespie, Lunceford and Basie and Sarah Vaughan and featured the likes of Fats Navarro, Allen Eager, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, among many others, in his own groups.

Hammer cites "Hot House," featured on this new Sharp Nine recording in addition to nine other Dameron works, as a good example of an "incredibly intricate weave of fairly simple elements. "It's extremely exotic but some of it is just chromatic scale positioned just so, so it sounds beautiful.

So Sharp Nine—named after the sharp 9 chord, an altered dominant chord often used in playing modern jazz—may be straight-ahead but you get original music and the standards are served up fresh, straight-up and sometimes with a twist.

Grant Stewart, a talented tenor who plays regularly with his own group at the downtown New York club Smalls on Tuesday nights and has been working on making a name for himself here and abroad, is the latest addition to the Sharp Nine lineup and he definitely spins standards his own way. Often compared to Sonny Rollins for his warm rich tenor sound, the Toronto-born tenor player has a style all his own.

Nobody can accuse Edelman of not being opinionated, for not doing what he believes in or for not speaking out on behalf of his artists. "For tenor playing, I think Eric Alexander and Grant Stewart are every bit as good as guys who are recording for Blue Note or major labels ... the Joe Lovanos or the Joshua Redmans, for example, he says. "I think Hazeltine and Hammer are great piano players. Period.

Stewart can be heard on Sharp Nine's recent In the Still of the Night, a well-executed collection of songs played with heart and finesse that features him as leader along with Hammer on piano, Peter Washington on bass and drummer Farnsworth (obviously Farnsworth who is also on Hammer's new release with Webber is someone who gets around in this neck of the woods). Earlier, Stewart appeared on another well-regarded Sharp Nine release, Planet Jazz 'In Orbit', featuring a band of Smalls regulars who are fixtures on the New York scene, including pianist Spike Wilner, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Neal Miner and drummer Joe Strasser.

But this month (October 2007) Stewart will record his second release as leader for Sharp Nine, with the same rhythm section. It will feature standards, but also a few of his own compositions.

As for why he likes standards, and why he often plays them, Stewart explains, "The most important thing for me is melody. And I don't care what anyone says, there haven't been composers like Jerome Kern and Cole Porter and Gershwin and Berlin since then. They could write melodies like nobody else. So their songs not only are harmonically interesting but melodically they're also so strong.

"I love songs. I don't think it's anything that goes in or out of style. Also, when I improvise I tend to be pretty busy and play a lot of complicated stuff so it's good for me sometimes to use the standards as a vehicle because they're not overly complicated so I can work off of them, adds Stewart. "As opposed to taking songs that are really complicated and then what I put on top of it may make it a little too dense.

"For me there's so much to playing a melody, he explains. "The details and subtleties of jazz music—that's what makes jazz. It's not necessarily scales and patterns and formulas, it's the things that you can't put into a formula or into a pattern ... That stuff makes jazz for me, rhythmically and also things like the way you approach a note, a melody, the way you attack in a note. Those things don't get much attention because they're impossible to teach, especially en masse.

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