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Bill Stewart: Space Squid

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Bill Stewart is the furthest thing from a basher. His taste and intelligence and counterintuitive relationships to time have made him a favorite drummer of people like John Scofield and Pat Metheny. In press notes, the genesis of Space Squid is described: “Stewart had some new compositions that he wanted to record.” Such a motivation is no doubt common, but does not always lead to albums that convey a deep reason to exist, or that feel like unified works. Space Squid meets both of these challenges because Stewart is an intriguing composer and a leader with a coherent aesthetic based on the same qualities as his drumming: understatement, dry wit, unpredictable decision-making, esoteric lyricism.

Seamus Blake is the saxophone version of Stewart. He sounds deft, almost off-hand, as he portrays Stewart’s elusive melodies, some twitchy like “Happy Walk,” some halting like “Paris Lope,” some suggestively pooling in place like “If Anyone Asks You.” But his subsequent improvisations expand significantly upon Stewart’s spare forms. Pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Ben Street are also subtle enough to thrive in Stewart’s world. But the defining presence here is the leader. Stewart rarely solos but continuously evolves percussion commentaries, suspensions and subplots. On “End of Earth,” he creates urgency with irregular eruptions out of silence.

The album’s only standard makes you wish for more. “Dancing in the Dark,” filtered through the sly sensibilities of Stewart and his colleagues, becomes uniquely languid and smeary and decadent.

Originally Published