“Grant is one of the most innovative musicians still carrying on the tradition of jazz, which encompasses bebop, swing and a little avant garde.” Lou Donaldson
“Grant is one of the brightest, gifted players I’ve heard and had on my bandstand. He can only do good-he’s got a long, brilliant career ahead of him.” George Coleman
“Be prepared to hear from this young man. I think he’s going to be one of the big boys – he IS already one of the big boys – and you’ll hear a lot of beautiful playing from him. Grant is what we call in the trade a ‘sleeper.’ A fantastic player, but not too many people know about him – yet! Once they do hear him they say, “WHOA!” – and that’s what I said when I did a recording with him. (And what I have to say to Grant is, “Keep on, keep on playing!”)” Clark Terry
“One of my favorite tenor players in the world!” Jimmy Cobb
Posted by STAR-LEDGER ENTERTAINMENT STAFF
June 20, 2007 6:41PM
When: Tuesday (also July 24, Aug. 7 and 21),
9 and 10:30 p.m.
Where: Smalls Jazz Club,
183 W. 10th St. at Seventh Avenue South, New York.
How much: $20, includes one drink. Call (212) 252-5091 or visit www.smallsjazzclub.com.
NEW YORK — Grant Stewart plays as much tenor saxophone as anyone, anywhere.
The 36-year-old Toronto native, who has lived in New York since 1990, proved it again June 19 at Smalls, his regular haunt for almost a decade.
Working with his long-standing quintet save one sub and playing a pleasing array of standards and jazz classics, Stewart exhibited his expansive, luminous sound, virtuosic technique, deep melodic imagination and unerring swing.
The refurbished basement space of Smalls is an ideal spot to witness the tenorist’s full impact. He plays there without a microphone, allowing the impressive natural breadth and richness of his tone — which is rooted in such jazz tenor masters as Sonny Rollins and Don Byas yet has a keen individuality — to be fully discerned.
Also, since Smalls is cozy, one can easily feel the heft of the saxophonist’s beat and the sonic weight he gives to his thematic interpretations and subsequent improvisations.
Stewart teamed with guitarist Joe Cohn (son of the famed tenor saxophonist, arranger, and composer Al Cohn), pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Andy Watson, filling in for Phil Stewart, the leader’s brother and usual drummer.
These musicians share the leader’s affinity for 1950s and 1960s modern jazz, which they play with a compelling, contemporary elan. Their efforts proved moving.
The saxophonist opened with a medium-fast “Falling in Love with Love,” and immediately revealed his expressive approach. He delivered the evergreen Richard Rodgers theme as it was written at points, and at others slid gracefully into notes or offered a deft, personal idea that suggested the theme.
In his solo, Stewart worked melodically, his thoughts, though offered with a powerhouse swing, interesting to listen to, meaty. He took the basic notes of a chord and rearranged them engagingly, making something complex out of something simple. He played passages where the notes fell at half the pace of the beat, creating rhythmic contrast. He delivered delicious bop-based ideas that boasted catchy melodic and rhythmic resolutions.
In accompaniment, Cohn and Asherie added buoyant chords and brief lines, Forbes — who plays on gut strings and without an amp — offered fat walking notes with a resilient sound, and Watson kept crisp time with a vibrant percussive jangle.
In their solos, Cohn, with his gleaming-to-dusky notes, and Asherie, a fluid modernist with a warm touch, mirrored the leader’s melodically graceful, rhythmically solid stance.
“If Ever I Would Leave You,” drawn from Stewart’s recent, first-rate “In the Still of the Night” CD, on the Westfield-based Sharp Nine label, was taken very fast. Even at brisk tempo, the tenorist kept his thoughts tuneful.
The saxophonist was at his most song-like on Alec Wilder’s lovely “Trouble is a Man,” where Watson’s brush scrapes complemented his deep bag of ear-pleasing statements.
Rollins’ and Elmo Hope’s “Carvin’ the Rock” was a medium-tempo 1950s’ gem that the members played with gusto and swing.
Stewart, whose Web site is www.grantstewartjazz.com, returns to Smalls Tuesday. He’s also there Friday-Saturday, 9 and 10:30 p.m., with Asherie’s quartet for a CD release party. Same prices as above.
Zan Stewart is the Star-Ledger’s jazz writer. He is also a musician who occasionally performs at local clubs. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (973) 324-9930.
“The dry furriness of Stewart’s tone, rubbery phrasing and witty use of melodic and rhythmic rhyme are all drenched specially in Rollins’ late ’50s aesthetic. But what separates Stewart from so many of his peers stuck in the quicksand of hard bop nostalgia is the sheer creative spark and spontaneity of his solos… when Stewart gets hot, as on a blistering “If ever I Would Leave You” the questions of individuality evaporate amid the in-the-moment thrills of his invention.”
Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press
“Stewart has gone and done it-he’s released a perfect album of classic -style jazz… half a century after bop’s heyday, Grant Stewart is one practitioner who finds new ways to express himself through it”
Steve Greenlee, JazzTimes Magazine
“…the full-toned Stewart lets us know right where he stands on his seventh CD, and first for Westfield-based Sharp Nine RecordS… Swinging in his thing, and he does it with aplomb… Stewart is so comfortable at high speed that each line is ripe with nuggets of fluid, rhythmically spot-on melody ”
Zan Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger
“Stewart has an athletic able-bodied style on tenor that can best be described as muscular… what makes him stand out in the large crowd is his ability to sprint across the keys without sacrificing an ounce of beef… impressing with his rare combination of speed and power… his first date as a Sharp 9 leader has him striking a home run”
Elliott Simon, All About Jazz
“…a Toronto native with a long pedigree of gigs, provides an invigorating whirlwind on the title track. He also knows his way around a ballad… Stewart projects a big and satisfying tone that is Sonny Rollins-esque… Stewart and crew make it high- energy. It’s hard to dislike Stewart’s stout embrace of “Autumn in New York” or the big buzz he gets out of ‘If Ever I Would Leave You.'”
“Stewart unleashes exciting solos at every turn… On his forthcoming CD, In the Still of the Night, Stewart proves that he is an absolute master of standards…played with a passion not easily equaled”
“Sonny Rollins can readily be heard in Stewart’s style , but he has parlayed this into his own distinctive sound… his muscular approach and deft use of space are enhanced by his unique sense of swing…
*** 3 stars”
“Coming out of the generation of Peter Bernstein and Brad Mehldau, he has become a veritable tenor colossus, and an unswerving force on the New York scene. An honest musician with a big sound and a fiery imagination, he could be the reincarnation of the Sonny Rollins of the fifties”
“a pure jazzman – the real thing… an imposing presence, a warmth of sound, an authority of expression , a force in the lines, and an inspiration that carries his phrases to their full extent. He has such an individual sound that he never gives the impression of reciting the lessons of his models”
“Powerful in a form that combines tension and relaxation like that of Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon, Grant is one of the most powerful stylists and one of the most under estimated on the scene. His sincerity, demonstrated in his straight- forward, honed music, affirms completely his power of expression. He is a burning representative of that New York style
which is notably found to express itself at Smalls, Mitch Borden’s club. Working with a close-knit circle of musicians he frequents the aristocracy of jazz at the limits of the underground.”
Jazz Hot Magazine
“A young saxophonist with a big , burly sound and plenty of drive…he demonstrates his command of both the instrument and the hard bop idiom”
All About Jazz
“his huge sound , creativity and beautiful melodic sense combine to easily place him among the finest saxophonists on the scene today”
“Stewart’s tenor is tight, rich and played full tone, instantly enveloping you in the sheer strength of his sound… staying away from established phrases and creating a researched personal sound, he produces a fresh resounding tenor”
“Stewart is one of the most dynamic modern day interpreters of the bebop language —delivering his goods with a bold,
deep sound, rich melodic imagination , and flawless technique… a saxophonist who has an expansive, alluring sound, remarkable technique, a deep melodic imagination and sure footed swing.”
Newark Star Ledger
“fully steeped in the tradition yet keenly aware of what’s happening around him, Stewart has forged his own style that owes its origins to many but not exactly anyone totally. His rhythmic displacement and harmonic sense on the faster numbers recalls at times Sonny Rollins ,but when he mellows down for a breathy ballad one can’t help but remember the much-missed Dexter Gordon…. Stewart may start receiving some overdue recognition with this satisfying release (Grant Stewart plus 4). I can’t think of another tenor player any more deserving.”