Grant Stewart, whose 2007 debut (In the Still of the Night) garnered rave reviews, returns for his sophomore Sharp Nine session with "Young at Heart" - another outstanding quartet affair. Supported by a first rate rhythm section led by bebop master Tardo Hammer, Stewart brings his huge tenor sound and boundless enthusiasm for melody and swing to bear on a diverse selection of six standards and two originals. From heart rendering ballads "You're My Thrill" and Jobim's "Modinha" to up-tempo ripper "Shades of Jackie Mac," Stewart is in complete control, expressing quicksilver ideas, emotion and rhythmic drive in classic hard bop fashion.
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At age 36 Grant Stewart has developed into a mature, top-drawer jazz musician and tenor sax improvisor. On "Young At Heart", Stewart's second CD for Sharp Nine in less than a year, his sense of control and authority, as well as his ability to draw listeners into his musical world are all in peak form. Everything on this CD is just right - the tempos, the sequencing of tunes, the swinging rhythm section, (the sparkling Tardo Hammer on piano, Peter Washington on drums and Joe Farnsworth on drums), as well as the superb sound quality. Stewart certainly makes the most of the opportunity. His nuanced and detailed solos are never predictable yet have a shape and overall direction which satisfy the listener. Some commentators note the similarity of Stewart's sound to that of Sonny Rollins in the 50's - perhaps so, but I find Stewart's full and pleasing sound to quite personal, as well.
Every tune here has much to commend it, but one has to be especially impressed with Stewart's approach to ballads. He is very patient, letting his solos build and tell a story, never more so than on "You're My Thrill" which opens with a subtle quote of "The Thrill is Gone." Stewart resists the temptation to double the tempo and his solo is a model of sustained melodic invention. It is a track to be savored and played over and over again. Similar comments apply to Jobim's "Modinha". Naturally, Stewart swings hard on the up tempo tunes, including Neal Hefti's challenging Latin tune, "Repetition"; Elmo Hope's boppish "Roll On"; Stewart's own "Shades of Jackie Mac", and Ellington's jaunty "Serenade to Sweden." But every moment on this 55 minute CD is full of interest. Grant Stewart is one of jazz's outstanding straight-ahead tenor saxophonists and "Young At Heart" is a highly recommended masterpiece.
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