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Bill Stewart: Space Squid

Dan Bilawsky By

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The musicians that appear on Space Squid only played one gig together as a band before recording this music, but the connections were there prior to that performance and studio session. Drummer Bill Stewart's relationship with pianist Bill Carrothers and saxophonist Seamus Blake extends back some two decades. Both men appear on Stewart's Telepathy (Blue Note, 1997), and Stewart has appeared on a number of each of their albums. Bassist Ben Street hasn't been in Stewart's orbit as long as the others, but a strong rhythmic connection exists between the two. Their work together in guitarist John Scofield's band and on guitarist Lage Lund's Unlikely Stories (Criss Cross, 2010) bears that out. Here, these four men tackle ten Stewart originals and one standard, highlighting the leader's expansive outlook as a composer and his mastery of feel, time, and space.

The album opens on "Paris Lope," a piece inspired by a pre-gig stroll through The City Of Lights. Stewart and Street create a cantering feel befitting the title, Blake's ardent tenor solo heats up the atmosphere, and Carrothers' piano statement is a fluid and unalloyed beauty. The followup—the eerie, probing "End Of Earth"—is a complete change of direction, what with its roaming, untethered, dystopian viewpoint. Nothing that follows is nearly as bleak or free-minded. "Tincture" bounds along in upbeat fashion and contains some standout Stewart soloing that exudes brilliance and bonhomie, "Happy Walk" takes off with a slick and funky Stewart-Street groove, "Blue Sway" projects unexpected harmonies of a bluesy nature against woozy swing, and "Dancing In The Dark" ends things on a classy note.

There's a fine balance between suppleness and strength throughout Space Squid, pinpointing what makes Stewart such an in-demand drummer. It's almost hard to believe that the man who's gently supporting Blake's soprano on the gentle, dark-lined "Drop Of Dusk" is the same musician who's playing the hell out of the dastardly, piano-less title track. But focusing solely on Stewart's drumming only detracts from his masterful composing. His writing is grounded in jazz language and logic, yet it's full of little surprises and twists. His conceptualization of a group aesthetic here ultimately plays off of that idea, tapping into the known while injecting a bit of uncertainty into the mix. These four men may not have been a proper band before this date, but you'd never know it from the music.

Track Listing: Paris Lope; End Of Earth; Tincture; Septemberism; Happy Walk; Drop Of Dusk; Dead Ringer; Blue Sway; If Anyone Asks You; Space Squid; Dancing In The Dark.

Personnel: Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bill Carrothers: piano; Ben Street: bass; Bill Stewart: drums.

Title: Space Squid | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

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