Cellar Live Records continues its run of admirable mainstream albums with Melodious Drum, Canadian-born and New York City-based Phil Stewart's debut as leader of his own groups, which range from trio to sextet. It's an interesting title, as Stewart's drums may be congenial but aren't melodious in the manner of, say, Jeff Hamilton, Ed Thigpen, Shelly Manne, Chico Hamilton or even Louie Bellson. He simply keeps very good time without excessive frills or flamboyance, while his solos are forceful yet far from song-like.
Stewart's well-knit core trio (Sacha Perry, piano; Paul Sikivie, bass) is showcased on Perry's compositions "Far Sure" and "Livin' with Hobson" and Thelonious Monk's bop-flavored "Eronel." Elsewhere, the group is enhanced by the presence of trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, tenor saxophonist Chris Byars and, last but not least, Stewart's older brother and longtime band mate, Grant Stewart, who plays tenor on three numbers, alto on "The Sumo." Magnarelli makes it a quartet on the classic opener, Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," and is joined by Byars and Grant Stewart on Bud Powell's sonorous "Dance of the Infidels" and George Coleman's mercurial "Apache" (a.k.a. "Cherokee"). Byars expands the trio on his free and easy original, "The Doctor Is In."
Perry shows an affinity for the blues on "Hobson," which embodies perhaps his most persuasive solo, again with staunch support from drummer Stewart and bassist Sikivie who appends a cogent statement of his own. As for the tenors, Stewart and Byars are two of a mind, in tone and execution, framing solos that are far more complementary than antithetical. Magnarelli, for his part, is comfortable in any scenario and knows how to coax the maximum mileage from every ad lib.
This a trim and tasteful blowing session, upraised by varying the size and makeup of Stewart's team, as well as a nice coming-out party for Grant's younger brother.
Manteca; Dance of the Infidels; Far Sure; The Sumo; Erratic; This Is All I Ask; Apache; Eronel; The Doctor Is In; Livin’ with Hobson.
Phil Stewart: leader, drums; Grant Stewart: alto (4), tenor sax (2, 6, 7); Chris Byars: tenor sax (2, 5, 7, 9); Joe Magnarelli: trumpet (1, 2, 7); Sacha Perry: piano; Paul Sikivie: bass.
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