Since moving from Toronto to New York at age 19, Grant Stewart has spent 15 years dutifully toiling in the city's jazz underground. Only over the past few years have we begun to hear some worthy examples of the tenor saxophonist's labora release under his name for Criss Cross, a pair on the same label by Reeds and Deeds (a band he co-leads with Eric Alexander), and a couple on the Video Arts imprint. Although all of these discs are worth your discretionary income and time, 2007's In the Still of the Night (Sharp Nine) was a career-defining recording. From shrewd choices in material, a crack rhythm section, to Stewart's glowing solos, it was one of those rare instances in which everything came together in a near perfect manner.
Sharp Nine owner/producer Marc Edelman wasted no time getting Stewart back in the studio, and he wisely decided there was no need to retool a winning formula. On Young at Heart, once again, Stewart is joined by pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
The record is every bit as good as its predecessor in part because of Stewart's ability to sound at ease and establish his own identity on different kinds of material and at various tempos. There's stability and depth to his playing that sets him apart from a host of well-known, thirty-something tenor stylists who blow convoluted to a fault.
The tenor saxophonist's thoughtful interpretations of songs by Duke Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Neal Hefti, and others are complete in themselves. He lingers on the melodies instead of merely using them as a springboard for improvisation. Throughout the head of the title track, for example, Stewart deliberately moves thorough Hammer's lively accompaniment. A subdued rendition of "You're My Thrill" conveys a quiet resignation.
Stewart's style of improvising is fresh, uncluttered, and cliche free. On medium and up tempo tracks like "Roll On," "Serenade to Sweden," "Shades of Jackie Mac," and "Jet Stream," he invariably plays a steady, evenly paced stream of ideas. One favorite device is burrowing into the rhythm section's thrust for an extended period before briefly easing up and gliding over them. Throughout the ballad "Modinha," Stewart's gift for spontaneous melodic invention is more pronounced, and so is his dramatic range. At one important juncture, he falls silent for what feels like an eternity before reaching a brief climax.
Personnel: Grant Stewart: tenor saxophone; Tardo Hammer: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.