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Curtis Stewart: of Love

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Curtis Stewart: of Love
Curtis Stewart [photographed by Titilayo Avangade] pens a timeless love letter to his mother, violinist Elektra Kurtis

With the 2024 Awards season not far from the proverbial corner, one is likely to be blinded by an onrush of accolades for various performances. This recording – of Love – by the prodigious violinist Curtis Stewart, which blurs the artificial boundaries that separate styles of contemporary music is no exception. However, there is something infinitely deeper at play here for Mr Stewart has written this series of aural miniatures as an elaborate love letter; dedicated, first and foremost to his late mother – and clearly his muse – the incomparable violinist Elektra Kurtis, whose voice makes several spectral appearances throughout the recording.

But this musical missive is much wider in scope. It encompasses his heritage that comes from being a Black American musician, who, like his father the mighty tubist Bob Stewart, is drenched in the cultural topography of the blues and jazz. As a result, he has imbued the rich heritage of the eternal music of his ancestors –Duke Ellington, Ray Nance, Stuff Smith, Alice Coltrane [et al]. The younger Stewart is also classically-trained – his mother’s Greek heritage and musical background having had a truly deep impact on his own.

All of this has constituted a bond with his parents, who were his first teachers, which underscores his impulse to create. But let’s not forget that Mr Stewart is a young musician. As the creator of this extraordinary music, performed as if in a kind of stream-of-consciousness James Joyce vein. Accordingly, Mr Stewart bends his mind like a proverbial, supple reed planted by the side of a river of sound sweeping into his consciousness with trance-like polyphony and polyrhythm bringing with it influences flowing as if through timeless time, and yet in time.

Curtis Stewart pays homage to his mother on his album: of Love

This is why you will find deeply entwined in the melodies, seemingly interminably, a narrative that goes back and forth between his childhood and adulthood, the music wailing; the soundtrack of Mr Stewart’s young life. The instrument becomes an extension of his voice, imbued with colours and textures that are gossamer-like. The colours emerge in brushstrokes as if daubing wet water colours on staved paper instead of musical notes – or perhaps they are both. His violin cries and laughs and sings its soft and lonesome songs and recitatives – as the bow traverses the violin in sweeping arco swishes and magical double stops as his life story of Love plays across the strings of his violin.

In short order we meet his mother, often through her own voice that spouts forth words of wisdom, instructing the young violinist. Hers is a spirit that runs throughout the music [also] in lyrics that are sung and recited by Mr Stewart. Ms Kurtis is the spirit reigning throughout this music and the young violinist’s life itself. We also meet other familiar inspirational figures in the form of Johannes Brahms – via Mr Stewart’s bending notes of the Adagio Movement of Violin Sonata No 1 Op 78 – and Alice Coltrane – via the bhajan sshe wrote entitled krishna, krishna – and [in the apogee of this recording], a masterful rendering of Take the A Train, by Billy Strayhorn which became the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  

This is an album so quietly brilliant, yet BIG album in creative impulse and propulsion that you will be left breathless by this young seemingly insolent, yet self-effacing genius of his instrument whose time has certainly come. Bravo Curtis Stewart. ‘Nuff said…

Deo gratis…

Music – 1: Remember; 2: Gone — The Happy Blues; 3: Present Tense; 4: Thalasakki Mou; 5: low; 6: krishna [improvisations on Alice Coltrane’s krishna krishna]; 7: Adagio from Johannes Brahms Violin Sonata No 1 Op 78 [We are going to be OK]; 8: Body and Soul; 9: Gone… 10: She Goes Away; 11: Here; 12: Embrace; 13: Gone; 14: dream it; 15: She Goes Away; 16: Pisces; 17: City’s Son [improvisations on Duke Ellington’s Take the A-Train]; 18: GONE; 19: Drift to Wake; 20: Remember them.

Musician – Curtis Stewart: violin, composition, arrangements, lyrics, vocals, recorded, editing, mixing and mastering. With – Derek Linzy [Prince’s engineer]: additional mastering.

Released – 2023
Label – New Amsterdam Records [NWAM 173 CD]
Runtime – 1:15:04

One of a series of promotional videos for the CD – of Love

Based in Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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