Canadian Grant Stewart has long been a part of the New York jazz scene, and his big-toned tenor is well suited to the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Joined by pianist Tardo Hammer (frequently complimented by producer/label owner Marc Edelman as one of the city's best-kept secrets), bassist Paul Gill, and drummer Joe Farnsworth, Stewart explores both hits and less frequently explored songs from the vast repertoire of Ellington and Strayhorn, beginning with a brisk, effusive arrangement of "Raincheck," which incorporates the changes utilized by Sonny Rollins in his 1953 recording. Stewart's setting of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" has a boppish tinge, as does the uptempo setting of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," in which the rhythm section fuels the fire of the leader. His hip arrangement of the Latin cooker "Angelica," originally recorded by Ellington as "The Purple Gazelle," swings like mad. The tenor saxophonist also masters ballads such as the overlooked "Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile on My Face)" and the dreamy "The Star-Crossed Lovers," the latter long a feature for Ellington's alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. This is easily one of Grant Stewart's best recordings.
Plays the Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn Review
by Ken Dryden