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Grant Stewart: Live at Smalls

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The SmallsLIVE label is unique. It started up in 2010 and already has 31 titles. It exists to document one particular venue, scene and culture: Smalls, at 183 West 10th in Greenwich Village. This tiny, humble basement dive is the nerve center for New Millennium Bop. You don’t go to Smalls to hear radical experimentation; you go to hear bop warriors young and old play all the current permutations of their genre. The energy of the Smalls scene proves that bop, when it is astute, passionate and personal, is an inexhaustible musical language. SmallsLIVE recordings put you smack in the middle of the communal Smalls hang, the musicians in your face, the crowd up against you.

Tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart, without apology, loves the old tunes, and plays them with fresh, hip intelligence. Every song sounds optimized when portrayed in Stewart’s large, looming, luminous tenor tone. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “The Meaning of the Blues” and “Mr. Lucky” are lovingly sketched, but with a free hand. Stewart flows away and reshapes them, but his suave, graceful new forms contain each song’s essence. He has made several excellent studio albums on the Sharp Nine label. His SmallsLIVE release proves that he is an equally elegant, unflappable improviser in a sweaty, funky jazz joint. Stewart’s pianist, Tardo Hammer, is a bulletproof bop master. He continuously inserts revelatory content, like his counter-melody in chords on “Get Out of Town.”

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