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Live From New York

Konk Pack, Tim Hodgkinson, George Lewis and Bob Stewart

By Published: May 27, 2010
Tubaman Bob Stewart doesn't play many gigs in the city, and when he does, he's often to be found down in this Greenwich Village basement. He was preparing to head off on a Congolese tour that was sponsored by Lincoln Center's Rhythm Road initiative. Fittingly, Stewart decided to devote much of the night's songbook to the globally-aware output of Don Cherry, although he also made diversions into the work of another old colleague, Arthur Blythe, before dropping in tunes by Kelvin Bell and Astor Piazzolla.

Stewart's son Curtis was playing violin, foregoing any extremities of amplification, and choosing only the faintest trace of abrasion to his bowing. In terms of his swinging, bouncing, articulate dexterity, surely Billy Bang must loom large in Stewart Jr's pantheon of influences. The line-up was completed by guitarist Jerome Harris and drummer Matt Wilson, the latter showing more restraint in this setting, but still providing a skittering swing as he highlighted his extra percussion trimmings.

Buoyancy is the crucial quality of this band. Whether negotiating the first set's more intricate compositions, or magnifying the funk for their second set, this is a disconcertingly nimble outfit. As Stewart's radio microphone wiggles and bobs in its supportive elastic bell-cradle (and that's a big belled-tuba!), it becomes a symbolic embodiment of the general approach. Besides picking sweetly pricking guitar parts, Harris pursued a vocal line on his own contribution, increasing the Afro-funk humidity. The unlikely inclusion of Piazzolla's "Libertango" further opened up the already globe-trawling range. The entire repertoire made a radical departure from any other gig (besides one given by Mister Cherry), facilitating soloing and ensemble contortions not easily heard anywhere else. Stewart's quartet emanated a unique personality, sounding slickly casual, with a skin-grafted closeness, quite possibly with minimal rehearsal time.

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