Jamie Stewardson


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The liner notes accompanying Jamie Stewardson's Jhaptal -- his second album as a leader -- make a point of stressing the eclecticism of his influences, ranging from Ornette Coleman's harmolodics to Mahavishnu Orchestra's paradigm-shifting jazz-rock fusion to Schoenberg, Mahler, and various strains of Indian music. Such a list can often warn of trouble: will the music be experimental for the sake of experimentalism, challenging and awesome to behold but ultimately unlistenable? That's not the case here. Guitarist Stewardson does indeed draw from a large well, but he folds those influences into his original ideas seamlessly, not so much camouflaging them as using them as decorations. Stewardson is an exceptional jazz guitarist and a courageous leader. As a soloist he is full of boundless invention, turning the melody (and he knows what melody is) around on a dime and coaxing the music into places it didn't know it wanted to go. As an accompanist he's supportive and strong, keeping his compositions -- he wrote and produced the entire album -- on track without reining in his musicians. Those musicians are each worthy of commendation as well. Tenor saxist Tony Malaby and vibist Alexei Tsiganov are the ideal foils for Stewardson, egging one another on when required, stepping back when the other has something to say. Drummer George Schuller's precision is matched with a light touch that allows him to provide accents to the numerous tonal and rhythmic shifts without pressuring them, and bassist John Hebert is simultaneously subtle and forceful, anchoring while guiding gently. Next time around the hype machine can forgo mentioning the influences and stick to Stewardson's own escalating record as a creative force in his own right.

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