Among the modern pride of relatively young lions in jazz drumming, Bill Stewart’s name isn’t mentioned often enough. The 41-year-old Iowa native has excelled both live and in the studio with guitarists John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Jonathan Kreisberg, and has a sporadic 20-year recording career as a leader. Incandescence is the second release by his current trio, the makeup of which shows the drummer’s creativity; it’s an organ trio featuring Hammond ace Larry Goldings, but the third member isn’t a bassist—it’s pianist Kevin Hays.
Yet the results often straddle the fence between unpredictability and inconsistency. The 10/8-timed opener “Knock on My Door” holds interest through its interactive playfulness, but only for about half of its nearly eight minutes. “Toad” offers a more traditional swing feel, and Goldings’ left-hand bass tones have both warmth and fullness, but the seven-minute track also fizzles before its coda.
The remaining pieces are shorter, and for the most part better, but are also mostly slow to mid-tempo. A dry “Portals Opening” segues into “Opening Portals,” which sounds like Thelonious Monk playing at the circus through Hays’ spiked chords; Goldings’ Hammond tones and Stewart’s rhythmic unorthodoxy. Goldings switches to accordion on “See Ya,” and Stewart’s “Metallurgy” is a very inventive two-minute solo on cymbals. All nine of the compositions are by the drummer, and several involve plays on words. “Four Hand Job” revisits the Monk influence, while “Tell a Televangelist” sounds more like a classic organ trio through Goldings’ banner work.
Stewart also plays in Hays’ more conventional piano trio (with bassist Doug Weiss) and Goldings’ Trio Beyond (with Scofield and Jack DeJohnette) fares better without a bass player. Incandescence certainly swings, but often misses despite Stewart’s creative, one-of-a-kind trio.