Click here to [close]

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio, The Bottom (Cuneiform, 2022) ****½

By Jim Marks

Luke Stewart kicks off the new year with a saxophone trio release featuring Brian Settles on tenor and Chad Taylor on drums and mbira. Stewart has worked with both Settles and Taylor before in trio settings ( No Trespassing and Tin - Tabu - Latin' - Rhyth - Hymn , respectively, both released in 2020), and the three collaborate effortlessly on this set of six tracks that fall somewhere between composition and improvisation (described by Stewart in the liner notes as “like a set of compositions . . . coupled by moments of free improvisation . . . contextualized by what happened before and after”).

The gentle, tropical-sounding opener “Reminiscince” (sic) begins with the mbira setting an odd beat that Stewart then joins on arco followed by Settles with some hesitant blowing. Taylor’s mbira here makes an interesting contrast to its appearance on his duo with Chris Schlarb ( Time No Changes, 2021, reviewed for the FJC by Nick Metzger ).

Things get moving with “Roots,” which Stewart drives with an insistent ostinato that locks into a groove with Taylor. Settles hangs back for a while and then darts in and out, playing off of both before melting into the cymbals toward the end.

“Angles” slows things down again and is the longest and perhaps the most challenging of the six tracks here. A series of clear notes from Settles immediately gives way to Stewart’s arco scrapings and rolls of muted percussion. The three then search tentatively for common ground, each frequently dropping out to let the others try to find a way; the “angles” here are definitely oblique.

“The Bottom” follows a pattern similar to “Roots” but to different effect, with Settles blowing some deep blues in response to Taylor calling up the ghost of Fred Below and Stewart that of Willie Dixon. This track hits especially hard after the ghostly tension of “Angles” and seems far too brief at around five minutes.

“Circles” is the most energetic, even frenetic of the tunes here, showing Settles’ impressive intervals, Taylor’s inventive polyrhythms, and Stewart’s nimble and precise pizzicato. This track also seems short, blazing by in just over three minutes.

“Dream House” rounds out the set at a medium-slow pace, with both Stewart and Settles drawing out their tones on the pleasant descending melody. This dream house is a spacious and warm place for the trio to end its journey.

The Bottom is not a major statement from Stewart like the Works for Bass series (reviewed with other solo bass recordings for the FJC by Eyal Hareuveni) or 2020’s monumental Exposure Quintet , but it provides a nice soundtrack to the start of 2022. And, given his remarkable productivity, undoubtedly have a lot more music to look forward to from Stewart in the coming months.