Band Menu (feat. Walter Smith III & Larry Grenadier)
Stewed Music/Bill Stewart
Despite playing on over a dozen albums by John Scofield, as well as key recordings by Pat Martino, Pat Metheny and Maceo Parker – among many others – Bill Stewart has balanced an in-demand clinician schedule with now 11 solo albums where he is the band-leader and often the main composer.
His latest features the killer trio of modern masters Larry Grenadier (bass) and Walter Smith II, (saxophones) with Stewart leading from the back.
It’s an often subtle affair, so much so that on the opening six-minute walk through the title track it takes some time for the musicians to really build and show some chops. It’s quiet virtuoso playing until Stewart starts to strike hard at the cymbals and lets a few tom-fills tumble and fla-boom.
Smith leads off with a nice melody on F U Donald (wonder who that could be about) before Grenadier’s bass line starts to throb and pulse and Stewart moves towards a funkier, harder edge in his playing, more of a back-beat beneath the shimmer of cymbals.
There’s exploration across the ballad-tempo of Re: Person I Knew where Stewart shakes his brushes across the brass-ware and over the snare as Grenadier’s striking bass-line is the early lead. When Smith enters its with a Coltrane-like authority to his waft.
Good Goat returns this trio to its safe-place of swinging funk. A good groove established and plenty of spit and swagger in the melodic phrasing from the sax but space for Stewart to really dig in and show some chop-playing.
Hair and Teeth has Stewart turning an almost Socca-styled hi-hat workout into a jazz feel as Smith ‘sore-throats’ the sax and then Grenadier and Stewart lock in so deep that it’s only the rhythm section that seems to matter.
Invocation’s lovely summery waft is pure open-venue late-night jazz balladry, Modren is busy, sharp playing – very Stanton Moore-meets-Mark Guiliana.
And the closer, Think Before You Think, again is almost deceptive in how great the playing is – how dynamic, sharp but never (too) showy.
This is an amazing modern jazz recording – top players just hitting it out of the park. But never showboating. A marvel. An album to enjoy as a whole, it’ll take you to a nice place somewhere, it’ll make wherever you are seem like the best place to be. No surprise really when all three of the players here have made their living and life as three of the best sidemen in recent years and all have experience as leaders as well.
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