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Grant Stewart: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn

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Here's a refreshing take on Ellingtonia, one that doesn't rely on the overdone ("Take the A Train," "Perdido") or easy ("C-Jam Blues"). Canadian native Grant Stewart brings a post-Swing, combo approach to his Ellingtonia, even going so far as to reference Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane collaboration. The tenor saxophonist, whose own distinctive style has echoes of Clifford Jordan and later Al Cohn in tone and conception, leads a pos tbop/hard bop-leaning quartet with pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

All of the material here should be familiar to fans of Ellingtonia with one exception: "Tonight I Shall Sleep," a ballad the Ellington Orchestra first recorded in 1945 with guest soloist Tommy Dorsey limning the melody on trombone. Stewart brings a rich warm tone and Dorsey-like legato approach to both the melody and his lyrical solo. Hammer's delicate, mostly single-note solo lines are reminiscent of the late John Lewis. And the ending tenor coda, with its unresolved chord echoing the conclusion of "Lush Life," suggests Strayhorn may have had a hand in the tune, although it's credited solely to Ellington.

Stewart ups the tempo, via Bob Mover's chart, of "Something to Live For," revs up "It Don't Mean a Thing" to bebop speed and excavates a bluesy groove on "The Feeling of Jazz." "Raincheck" and "I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart" demonstrate the charms of melodic substance to swing, while "Star-Crossed Lovers" from The Shakespearean Suite, is a tribute to alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges' sumptuous style.

Track Listing: Raincheck; Tonight I Shall Sleep; Angelica; I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart; It Don't Mean a Thing; Something To Live for; The Star Crossed Lovers; The Feeling of Jazz.

Personnel: Grant Stewart: saxophone; Tardo Hammer: piano; Paul Gill: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.

Title: Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Sharp Nine Records

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