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Robert Stewart: Heaven and Earth

Listeners looking for the hard bop featured on some earlier Robert Stewart CDs should go straight to the last track of Heaven and Earth. That tune, “Peace Within,” although essentially a vocal, does feature a burning rhythm section and rousing hard-bop solos by pianist Glen Pearson and the leader on tenor (he also plays drums on that one track). But much of the album could be categorized more accurately as smooth jazz. Indeed, the two Luther Vandross/Nat Adderley, Jr. pieces, “Make Me a Believer” and “The Other Side of the World,” with synthesizer, rock-ballad drums, and relatively straight-albeit soulful-tenor readings of their melodies, might serve as examples of the idiom. Still, some nice straight ahead jazz can be found in spots. Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” contains an excellent hard bop-oriented piano improvisation, as do Stewart’s “A Tear for the World” and “The Gardens.” The latter, a medium-up Latin tune, also spotlights some boppish tenor. Unfortunately, on some of the ballads, such as “Here’s to Life” and “Send in the Clowns,” Stewart’s vibrato unaccountably varies in speed-sometimes fast, sometimes slow-and consequently sounds affected and unnatural.

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