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September 2006

Jamie Stewardson
Jhaptal
Fresh Sound New Talent

Jamie Stewardson is a striking player affiliated with the New England Conservatory. He fronts an extraordinary quintet on his sophomore outing, with Tony Malaby on tenor, Alexei Tsiganov on vibes, John Hebert on bass and George Schuller on drums. This is advanced, tough-skinned music, meticulous in structure but without a hint of academic stiffness. It also happens to be one of Malaby’s most compelling appearances on record.

Stewardson favors snaky unison lines and unsettled beats, with shadowy harmony that’s all the more ambiguous in Tsiganov’s hands. Everyone, including the rhythm section, is called upon to double riffs, melodies or accents, giving the music a rich ensemble flavor. Stewardson’s guitar has just a touch of distorted bite, recalling early John McLaughlin, or Kevin Eubanks with Dave Holland. The band swings hard on the first two cuts, “T Can Shuffle” and “Bubbles,” but then veers into a groovier rhythmic concept for much of the session. “Jhaptal” takes its name from a 10-beat Indian rhythmic cycle, and “Combinatoriality,” “Olive Oil,” “Rest Area” and the 5/4-metered “Cruel Traps” are just as volatile and complex. The closing ballad “For Dale and Roberta” comes as a stark surprise. Another such contrast might have served the album well.

Originally published in September 2006
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