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Bill Stewart: Incandescence

Troy Collins By

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Best known for his work with guitarist John Scofield, drummer Bill Stewart has avoided the straight and narrow in favor of a more exploratory path. Although Stewart's output as a leader has been limited by his various sideman duties, his solo work is consistently inventive, combining idiosyncratic writing with agreeable rhythms.

A tasteful stylist who favors melodious polyrhythms and colorful accents over pyrotechnics, Stewart has been recruited by a number of high profile artists. In addition to Scofield, he has regularly collaborated with Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny and Maceo Parker, among others.

Stewart's previous effort, the self-released Keynote Speakers (2006), featured a unique trio of drums, piano and organ. Incandescence is the logical follow up, reuniting Stewart with longstanding colleagues, pianist Kevin Hays and organist Larry Goldings on nine of Stewart's original tunes.

A Hammond organ specialist, Larry Goldings has graced a variety of scenes; veering from Maceo Parker's deep funk and post-bop with John Scofield to free-form explorations alongside Matt Wilson. Kevin Hays has recorded for Blue Note and Steeplechase and accompanied an array of talent, from Joshua Redman to Joe Henderson.

This unusual line-up works a subtle variation on the organ trio tradition, updating vintage mid-sixties Blue Note soul jazz with modern harmonic progressions, oblique meters and shifting dynamics on "Toad" and "Tell A Televangelist." Simmering with laid back swing and mellow lyricism, "Knock On My Door" saunters with an uplifting groove that would make Scofield proud.

Arriving from different angles, "Portals Opening" and "Opening Portals" provide an effervescent chiaroscuro. The former gracefully ascends with ethereal organ washes and repeated piano refrains as Stewart unfurls energetic waves of percussive color. The later swings with a vengeance, careening with angular, off-kilter cadences that recall Tony Williams' Lifetime.

Revealing an impressionistic side, the moody title track glimmers with serene ambiance while the pensive ballad "See Ya" presents subtle Old World tonalities when Goldings switches to accordion. Scintillating cymbal splashes and haunting percussive strokes paint a miniature tone poem on "Metallurgy" while "Four Hand Job" blurs the boundary lines between freedom and form, revealing energetic soliloquies buttressed by a thorny head melody.

With compositional clarity and improvisational finesse, the trio transcends its novel instrumentation on Incandescence, providing a viable alternative to a classic tradition.

Track Listing: Knock On My Door; Toad; Portals Opening; Opening Portals; See Ya; Four Hand Job; Tell a Televangelist; Metallurgy; Incandescence.

Personnel: Larry Goldings: Hammond Organ, accordion; Kevin Hays: piano; Bill Stewart: drums.

Title: Incandescence | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

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