If there is truly one great thing about jazz is its an openly embracing music. Throughout its history jazz’s ability to incorporate new musical ideas and sound technologies openly and willingly has not only kept it current, unlike many rock styles which vanish overnight, but also brings in new talent and fresh ideas to spur older musicians on to new heights. Trumpeter and New Orleans native Michael "Patches" Stewart’s new CD, his third solo outing, is a case in point.
Stewart began his professional work while still in his teens playing gigs around New Orleans. His talent and abilities had risen to such a level that at the age of sixteen he made his first recording as a member of the horn section on Patti LaBelle’s hit Lady Marmalade. Moving to Los Angeles following high school he kicked around with small bands for a number of years before getting on with the Brothers Johnson. From there musical associations with Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Anita Baker, George Duke and Rickie Lee Jones, among others, followed. First working with Marcus Miller in the 1990s, Stewart has been a regular cohort since.
Produced by music legend Marcus Miller (of Miles Davis Tutu, among others, and David Sanborn fame), Miller arranged and produced all of the cuts on Stewart’s tour of many modern and electrically oriented jazz musical genres. Ranging from a Miles-ish Doo-Bopish hip groove entitled Blow, to a uniquely trippy yet reverential take on Steve Wonder’s Overjoyed, to a really sweet and heavily straight-ahead influenced version of Herbie Hancock’s Tell Me A Bedtime Story, to a chilled Will Downing singing vocalize to Marcus Miller’s Don’t You Know, to a rapish Cruisin’, Stewart takes on a ton of different styles and handles them expertly. Stewart is a rare trumpeter who can place himself into so many different contexts and come up with the right combination of tonal fluctuation and emotional range required. As a technician Stewart proves he has the chops. Whether required to light it up, as on the soul-jazzish Road Song and at the end of Congo Square (both with saxophonist Kenny Garrett - probably the best alto saxophonist working today), or play it smooth, as on Don’t You Know, Stewart handles all styles equally well.
If there is a problem with this recording it’s in the multiplicity of styles. Just when a tune settles into one style, it quickly changes to something different with the next cut. While this is a good showcase for Stewart’s multifarious abilities, the overall effect keeps the listener just a little off balance throughout. If you’re looking for a more singularly directed effort his debut Blue Patches on Hip Bop Essence is an excellent straight-ahead oriented work. Of course, we should all be so lucky to have Marcus Miller calling the shots.