Grant Stewart continues to be one of my favorite modern tenor saxophonists. He has a huge sound, he's nimble and knows when to turn on the speed, and he loves showing-off on standards. I'm old school—jazz to me is about showing your stuff, competing hard, and having respect for the music's grand tradition. Grant hits all of these hot buttons.
Grant is up on his Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Don Byas and Jimmy Forrest. Way back when, leaders understood the need for suspense and wowing the listener. An artist like Ammons might start a run, pause ever so briefly to let the line sink in, and then pick up where he left off—as though hitting pause on a DVD remote and hitting play a few seconds later. It was a crafty way to build drama and let the cool set in momentarily before resuming the heat.
On Live at Smalls, recorded back in April, Grant was joined by a superb rhythm section: Tardo Hammer [pictured above] on piano, David Wong on bass and brother Phil Stewart on drums. Tardo is a swinging, technical monster who also knows his history, David hits the upright's strings with huge authority, and Phil is a master of delicate intimidation.
The tracks here are all standards. Make Someone Happy, Mr. Lucky, Bobby Troup's Meaning of the Blues, Billy May's Somewhere in the Night, Thelonious Monk's Reflections, Tea for Two, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Get Out of Town.
In each case, Grant adds a twist. Tea for Two is taken about twice as fast as most versions, as is Mr. Lucky and Somewhere in the Night, which gives them a more urgent coloration. Get Out of Town and Make Someone Happy also are uptempo, requiring Grant to make improvising choices on the superfly, demonstrating yet again why he's a standout. And his ballad work on Meaning of the Blues will knock you out. Best of all, Grant never slides into cliches but instead makes all of these battles personal—as it should be.
JazzWax note: Grant tells me he'll be featured with the Paul Sikivie Quartet at Dizzy's After Hours in New York next week. He'll also be playing the Punta Del Este International Jazz Festival in Uruguay the first week of January with Jesse Davis and Terell Stafford. Then he'll be touring Switzerland with trumpeter John Marshall from Jan 16 to 26. For more on Grant, go here.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Grant Stewart's Live at Small's (SmallsLive) available now as a download at iTunes while the CD will be available here in January. Or you can buy the CD now at the Small's site here.
JazzWax track: Here's Mr. Lucky from Grant Stewart's Live at Small's...