Few artists have been more central to my listening over the last few years than Luke Stewart. His work is in constant motion as he maps out a singular path, exploring an ever-expanding sonic palette. That said, some of his most engaging work has been in ensembles whether it was the all-timer Exposure Quinet release on Astral Spirits last year, all things Irreversible Entanglements, or this intriguing quartet co-led by sitarist Jarvis Earnshaw and featuring Ryan Sawyer on drums and Devin Waldman on alto sax.
Across six pieces the group gets into a lot of different zones. Challenging listeners to stay engaged, focusing in on the spectral nature of the place where chaos and solace meet, there’s plenty of room to fly here. The exploratory feeling present throughout the session is a bright cosmic carrot dangled toward the horizon, inviting anyone in earshot to lace ‘em up and seek without turning back when the hard rains come.
Waldman’s whimsical runs are buoyed by the sitar’s effervescent resonance on “Kenopsia,” with Stewart’s bass always pushing the music to keep moving. This interplay is bolstered by Sawyer, who can play anything, any time, anywhere, letting Stewart dance in the spotlight when the moment calls for it or bring the sitar into single focus. It’s invigorating, cleansing.
Cohesion is always key, but this quartet lives in this rare space where veering off a little here and there drives the pieces forward, expanding the sonic possibilities. “Red Hook Blues Got Me Smiling” may be subdued, but it sings with astral energy. The tonal quality of Earnshaw’s sitar adds something so unique, so spiritous to the session that it’s damn near impossible not to be absorbed. Sawyer and Stewart are rock solid here, creating these huge, slow-moving masses of sound that would be impenetrable if not for the gossamer touch of Waldman’s saxophone drawing out intricate aural shapes.
There’s a lot to love about the cathartic comforts of these six pieces. Stewart and Earnshaw are livewires on a quest with everything coming to a head-on closer, “Where I Go, I Am There.” Sawyer ratchets up some heady, quickstrike grooves, throwing dagger-like fills at every opportunity, laying a righteous wave for the other three to ride. Stewart’s basslines are contemplative and affecting, opening a pathway for Earnshaw and Waldman to go searching, not so much for answers, but for the right questions. Angles open up, obtuse and spacious where everyone can breathe before diving headfirst against the oncoming gale.
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