Did I Remember?
Once upon a time he was their critically lauded rival. But, as he and his peers enter the winter of their years, Bob Stewart can’t claim the aged-in-hipsterism majesty of Mark Murphy, the indefatigable survivalism of Andy Bey or the burnished patina of Tony Bennett. Perhaps it’s because while Murphy, Bey and Bennett bravely navigated the tumultuous musical tides of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Stewart opted for different waters, tossing jazz overboard in favor of a steadier life as a sea captain. So, when he did eventually return to the recording studio, Stewart lacked the battle scars that have so enriched his confreres’ career-capping work. Yet, as this 15-track compilation, drawn from an assortment of albums dating from the mid-’90s onward, demonstrates with varying degrees of success, Stewart still ranks as a solid, jazz-tinged stylist. Wisely recognizing the limitations of his aging pipes, Stewart sticks to gentle ballads. The best of the bunch, including a beautifully haunted reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Love Look Away,” are four tracks that find Stewart in the eminent company of Hank Jones, Mel Lewis and Frank Wess. There are also previously unreleased readings of “My Funny Valentine” and “Gone With the Wind” with the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra that would be lovely if not hampered by inferior sound quality. The balance of the album, through no fault of Stewart’s, tends toward bland stickiness thanks to pedestrian, string-heavy backing from the Hollywood Sound Stage Orchestra (on four tracks) and Angelo Dipippo (with the Orion Strings) on an additional five.