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Grant Stewart: Rise and Shine


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: Grant Stewart: Rise and Shine
Over the past twenty-five years, the jazz world has seen its share of stylistic ups and downs. Often changing with chameleon-like character, the music's popularity has come and gone based on the trends of the time and the success of musicians capable of connecting with broader audiences beyond the established cognoscenti. In looking back at the year 1992, when Grant Stewart's debut release Downtown Sounds hit the streets, the range of material being offered by his peers spanned from Uri Caine's exploratory Sphere Music to Pat Metheny's orchestral opus Secret Story.

Keeping with the straight ahead mantra of Criss Cross Jazz producer Gerry Teekens, Stewart's maiden voyage sat squarely in the zone of the then current hard bop renaissance. Nonetheless, there was a palpable exuberance to his sound that spoke to a previous era and put at a premium the values of swing and bravado. As a result, Stewart demonstrated early on a desire to tap the lexicon of swing and bebop while developing his own unique voice.

In listening to the session at hand, the voices of Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins still seem to be a go-to source for Stewart who manages to take such influences and comingle them into his own unique muse. Part and parcel of his musical landscape over the past several years has been the frequent presence of Tardo Hammer. Since 2007, the pianist has appeared on five of the past eight albums Stewart has made as a leader. A like-minded peer, Hammer's support as an accompanist and story-telling ability as a soloist are assets of pronounced value.

Also worth noting is the locale of these sessions and several others caught on tape by producer Cory Weeds during a recent visit to New York. The site of countless jazz recordings, Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studio has served as a virtual home base for labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse, and CTI. A Usonian masterpiece designed by David Henken, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, the studio was built in 1959 but seemed destined for an uncertain fate following Van Gelder's death in August of 2016 at the age of 91.

Fortunately, over the course of her thirty years as his assistant, Maureen Sickler managed to develop a relationship with Van Gelder that endured her to being left keeper of the keys. Maureen and husband Don are currently looking to gain landmark status for the studio and various producers such as Weeds have started to utilize the space once again for sessions, noting the magical qualities of this remarkable space.

"It's wasn't my first time recording there," explains Stewart when taking about the session at hand. "I had been out there for a couple of little things, but this was the first full record session I've done there." The synergy between the space and artists is palpable on every track and Stewart was more that satisfied with the results. "The room is one of a kind. There's really nothing like it sound wise and we recorded the way I'd always dreamed of recording-out there with everyone in the room, no headphones, and no booths. It was natural and like the way we play every day."

Significant as well is the inclusion of five numbers penned by jazz piano royalty. Featured on his 1956 album with John Coltrane entitled Mating Call, Tadd Dameron's "Gnid" is a robust number that brings out the best in Stewart as he effortlessly devours the changes. Bud Powell's "Hallucinations" is another period gem that sits just right with this ensemble, Stewart and Washington both quoting Strayhorn's "Rain Check" as part of their solo statements.

Detroit jazz legend Barry Harris featured "Like This" on his 1967 Prestige date Luminescence. In the hands of Stewart and Hammer, this lesser known trinket speaks with an affirmative voice. Also from the Prestige canon, Tommy Flanagan's "Minor Mishap" is probably the most memorable piece from 1957's The Cats. As Stewart takes charge in his blustery statement, the ambiance and natural reverb of the studio becomes viscerally apparent.

Monk's "Off Minor" is one of the iconic composer's more popular numbers and the quartet finds much fodder in its quirky brilliance. Particularly rewarding are drummer Phil Stewart's musical statements delivered over the walking bass of Peter Washington. Of the remaining selections, standouts include vocalist Lucy Yeghiazaryan's burnished tones waxing nostalgic on "My Reverie" and a warp speed take on "Rise and Shine" that keeps everyone on their toes.

Although Stewart has recently flown under the radar in terms of recording activity, he hasn't been wanting for work. "This last five years I've been pretty busy with traveling," he says. "I go over to Europe every month and a half or so and work around town." As testimony of Stewart's virile jazz sensibilities, here's hoping that Like This will further raise the saxophonist's public profile to a level that is deserving of his considerable talents.

Liner Notes copyright © 2024 C. Andrew Hovan.

Rise and Shine can be purchased here.

C. Andrew Hovan Contact C. Andrew Hovan at All About Jazz.
An avid audiophile and music collector, Chris Hovan is a Cleveland-based writer / photographer / musician.

Track Listing

Gnid, Rise and Shine, Welcome to the Club, Minor Mishap, Like This, I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, Off Minor, You, My Reverie, Hallucinations.


Album information

Title: Rise and Shine | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Cellar Records

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