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Luke Stewart Silt Trio: Unknown Rivers

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Luke Stewart Silt Trio: Unknown Rivers
Bassists in the jazz world frequently have to toil in the trenches for years, building their resumes in fits and starts as they gradually establish themselves, commonly hidden (figuratively and literally) behind the players up front who get most of the attention and credit. Luke Stewart is an undeniable exception, having enjoyed a mercurial rise to prominence since 2017 in outfits like Irreversible Entanglements, Heroes Are Gang Leaders and his own ensembles, not to mention a host of other projects in the Washington, DC area that often take him well beyond the confines of jazz. He has been helped along the way by a number of supportive labels, including Astral Spirits, International Anthem and Impulse!. Now with Pi Recordings taking up his latest effort, Unknown Rivers, we can expect his visibility to grow even brighter.

This is Stewart's second outing with his Silt Trio, coming on the heels of The Bottom (Cuneiform, 2022), which featured tenor saxophonist Brian Settles and drummer Chad Taylor. This iteration includes the same lineup, but only for the last three tracks, recorded live at Trinosophes in Detroit. The first four cuts have Warren Trae Crudup III on the kit, in a trio configuration first documented in 2020 on a self-released album called No Treaspassing. Regardless of personnel, both groups give Stewart abundant opportunities to display his fluid melodicism and sinewy ostinatos, along with the rhythmic flexibility that allows him to adapt instantly to his partners' maneuverings.

Both Crudup and Taylor are outstanding, although on this recording it does seem as though Taylor brings out a more visceral aspect of Settles' playing, noticeable right away on the free bop "Amilcar," which starts the Trinosophes set. Stewart loves a gritty groove, and once he gets that going alongside Taylor the results are immediately satisfying; Settles is glad to dive right in, and when Taylor ups the tempo, the music becomes even more enticing. On the following cut, "Dudu," Stewart works up a droning arco as Settles moves into a yearning mode, with long, sustained peals; at over twelve minutes, the album's most expansive track generates a range of emotional registers, with Stewart frequently in the lead, goading his partners to greater intensity. The finale to the set, "Unknown Rivers," keeps things at a full boil, with another killer ostinato from Stewart that fuels some of Settles' most engaging playing.

The first four cuts do not have quite the bracing impact of the live set, but they make up for it in the nuances of the musicians' close interactions that are more audible in the studio setting. Crudup's approach often relies on rhythmic indirection, most noticeable on "You See?," on which the drummer roams freely around the kit, prompting Settles and Stewart to find their spots for garrulous interjections and feisty commentary. And on "Baba Doo Way," shifting grooves and tempos emerge, with Settles finding more room for exploration. Stewart too relishes this freedom, ranging even more widely on his instrument, as the three enrich and deepen the conversation as the music unfolds.

While it has become increasingly challenging to keep up with Stewart's prodigious output, Unknown Rivers makes clear the importance, and pleasure, of doing so.

Track Listing

Seek Whence; Baba Doo Way; You See?; The Slip; Amilcar; Dudu; Unknown Rivers.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Unknown Rivers | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Pi Recordings


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