Given that music is one of Ireland's principal exportsbe it rock from Van Morrison to U2, or the folk music that has found legions of followers across the globeit's striking that there are so few international Irish jazz stars. Maybe the "craic" (and the porter) at those traditional sessions is so good that there's little incentive to lock yourself away learning jazz changes!
The major exception, of course, is guitarist Louis Stewart, a veteran of the '60s Irish jazz scene, who has played in the company of Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, and George Shearing. Stewart has largely followed a career of solo performance and collaboration outside of the floodlights, with discs appearing rarely and disappearing all too quickly. Yet talk with any guitarist who knows his playing and they will speak of him with awe.
The title of this recording seems to do nothing to raise the Stewart profile, with its implications of chugging along as usual. And in some respects, it's apt. You'll not hear a band trying to create the next great breakthrough in jazz or attempting to astound you with iconoclasm. This is a recording of songbook standards, jazz classics, and a few blues, played in a style that could have been heard in a club in the early 1960s.
This is band, therefore, playing within a tried and tested formula; but the excellence of the playing creates a recording that engages the listener as fully as anything more overtly challenging. Stewart's sound seems completely oblivious of McLaughlin's Hendrixisation of jazz guitar, coming as it does from the tradition of Farlow, Burrell, Montgomery, and Hall. The opening mid-tempo "I Should Care" sets the tone for the rest of the disc, a gentle stroll through a well loved tune with Stewart's guitar providing rich melodic variations.
A deeply felt reading of Coltrane's "Equinox" provides an early highlight. Terje Venaas' bass opens the soloing, preparing the ground for a Stewart solo that seems endless in its bluesy invention. Throughout the disc the Norwegian rhythm section provides ideal support, Egil Kapstad's piano matching Stewart in its lyricism on a ballad like "For All We Know." The guitar/piano duet on "Can't Get Started/You've Changed" concludes the disc quietly, and Stewart's final ripple of notes will stop your heart.
So, this is not a disc to wave at your friends (or enemies) as the future of jazz. But as the cold winter nights rapidly approach, it's one you'll return to again and again as you kick off your slippers, put your feet up, and grab a favourite tipple. The only warning I'd give is that once you've listened two or three times you'll be wanting to hunt down Stewart's other discs. Given that he's mainly recorded on small independents over the last 35 years, you're going to be in for a long search! But it's one that will reward you richly with each find.
Track Listing: I Should Care; Equinox; Manhattan; Minority; For All We Know; Titmouse Blues; Everything
Happens To Me; Gone With The Wind; How Deep Is The Ocean; Room 608; I Can
Personnel: Louis Stewart: guitar; Egil Kapstad: piano; Terje Venaas: bass; Eyvind Olsen: drums.
Year Released: 2004
| Record Label: Villa Records
| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream