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June 2008

Grant Stewart
Young at Heart
Sharp Nine

Grant Stewart’s Young at Heart is the kind of album that used to be commonplace. The New York tenor player not only calls off standard repertoire; he also sounds like he performs these songs from memory rather than a fake book. The set is by turns lyrical and muscular, while sidestepping the rudderless post-bop that has become standard fare. The album is a sequel to In the Still of the Night (2007), Stewart’s Sharp Nine debut that followed his six releases overseas. Once again, the quartet includes pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

The title song opens the album and provides a preview—Stewart’s fleet, bop-inspired runs over a rhythm section that stays out of his path. The group’s full-gallop reading of “Shades of Jackie Mac” should have challenged Stewart, but his store of ideas renders this issue moot. “Roll On,” Elmo Hope’s serpentine bop line, is even better. Stewart’s solo moves evenly through the harmonic twists and turns, heats up and then jabs with clipped phrases and abrupt single notes. Less impressive is Stewart’s ballad playing on “You’re My Thrill.” While the performance showcases Stewart’s burnished tone, it lacks coherence. Also, the set would have benefitted from some off-kilter seasoning: a Thelonious Monk tune, perhaps, or the occasional rubato introduction. It hardly matters, though. The album is arguably one of the better tenor outings in recent years.

Originally published in June 2008
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