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April 2007

Grant Stewart
In the Still of the Night
Sharp Nine

The field of saxophonists is crowded today, which is undoubtedly why we aren’t better acquainted with Grant Stewart, a 35-year-old Canadian who favors the kind of old-school hard bop that made household names of Joe Henderson and Dexter Gordon. Though he’s young, Stewart already has several fine discs under his belt, having made his debut with no less than Brad Mehldau as one of his sidemen. But now Stewart has gone and done it—he’s released a perfect album of classic-style jazz.

In the Still of the Night evokes the best Blue Note records of the 1950s and ’60s. Sure, there’s a lot of head-solo-solo-solo-head format here, but Stewart’s adherence to convention should not be confused with lack of originality—check out, for instance, the hair-on-the-neck-raising two-bar phrase he blows just as he starts his solo on “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

His work on a speedy take of the title track is flawless—he plays behind time, he plays against time, all the while spilling forth a flurry of notes. His warm, brawny tenor is glorious on “Autumn in New York,” as his solo spirals further and further from the theme while his quartet (featuring pianist Tardo Hammer, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth) takes the tempo from ballad to burner and back. Stewart’s supporting cast is just that—this is his showcase, after all—though Hammer gets in some nice solos, including a great one on Thelonious Monk’s “Work.” Half a century after hard bop’s heyday, Grant Stewart is one practitioner who finds new ways to express himself through it.

Originally published in April 2007
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