Drummer Bill Stewart puts out records under his own name all too infrequently. Maybe it's because he's too busy since he first emerged in the late '80s as a sideman for artists like guitarists John Scofield and Pat Metheny, saxophonist Chris Potter, pianists Bill Charlap and Bill Carrothers, and saxophonist/arranger Bob Belden. He's also been a constant musical companion for a fellow Scofield alumnus, keyboardist Larry Goldings, appearing on almost all of Goldings' releases since '91's The Intimacy of the Blues.
It's been eight years since Stewart last released an albumif you discount '98's Think Before You Think, a reissue of an '89 session previously only available in Japan. Based on his two previous Blue Note releases, '95's Snide Remarks and '97's Telepathy, what you can expect from Stewart are heady compositions that still manage to groove and swing with the kind of fluid elasticity that have characterized his work all along. What differentiates the independently-released Keynote Speakers is that he's put together a rather unconventional trio with Larry Goldings (primarily on organ) and Kevin Hays (on piano and electric piano)either the oddest piano trio you've ever heard, or the most unusual organ trio.
As with Stewart's previous releases, you're not likely to find much in the way of drum pyrotechnicsalthough Stewart is his usual consistently inventive self throughout. That's not to say he doesn't take the occasional solo. But when he does, as in the opening to "Squid, it's more about atmosphere and melody than polyrhythmic extravagance. No, when Stewart puts out an album, it's more about composition and creating a group vibe, and on Keynote Speakers he creates a distinctive one indeed.
Stewart's compositional style leans to the cerebral and the harmonically abstract. Even on the relaxed swing of "How Long is Jazz? essentially a bluesthere's a strangely unsettled feeling, mainly because Stewart chooses slightly off-kilter close harmonies and odd dissonance for his thematic construct. Even the gentle "Chorale takes a tender melody and lends it a darker complexion by supporting it with more oblique changes. The open-ended "Enjoy It is even more obscure, with an idiosyncratic concept that blurs the line between form and freedom. And with its shifting meters that somehow remain moving on a purely physical level, "Don't Ever Call Me Again is something you might hear on a Scofield disc, evincing the same uncanny ability to skirt the line between the inside and the outside.
Goldings and Hays avoid the potential for excessive density that can arise from two keyboards together. Both are capable of the kind of spacious accompaniment thatalong with Stewart's delicate yet substantive approachgives Keynote Speakers an almost lighter-than-air ambience. And yet, for all its avoidance of overt powerhouse tactics, Keynote Speakers grooves insistently. As intellectual as Stewart's conception is, it also retains a certain earthiness that keeps it grounded and, for all its esoteric harmonic ideals, completely engaging.
Keynote Speakers is available exclusively through CDBaby on the web.
Track Listing: Good Goat; How Long is Jazz?; Chorale; Enjoy It; Don't Ever Call Me Again; Just in Time; Divine's Intervention; Squid; Ballad of Kae; Wayne Cooler; Florgan; Haze
Personnel: Bill Stewart (drums, cymbals, gongs); Larry Goldings (Hammond organ, Korg organ on
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