Unknown Rivers

Luke Stewart

Track List

Seek Whence
Baba Doo Way
You See?
The Slip
Unknown Rivers

Unknown Rivers is bassist Luke Stewart’s debut for Pi Recordings. An omnipresent and galvanizing force on the music scene, Stewart is a leader or co-leader of such bands as Irreversible Entanglements – whose new release Protect Your Light DownBeat called “a fascinating work of art whose existence is exactly what it’s supposed to be, perfectly in place on the great curve of the universe” – along with his Exposure Quintet, Blacks’ Myths, Heart of the Ghost, and Remembrance Quintet. Also named by DownBeat as one of “Twenty-Five Performers Who Could Shape Jazz for Decades,” he is also among the most in-demand collaborators, having performed with the likes of David Murray, Archie Shepp, Wadada Leo Smith, Nicole Mitchell, Moor Mother, Jaimie Branch, Nate Wooley, William Hooker, Ken Vandermark, Marshall Allen, Gary Bartz, Billy Hart, Shabaka, Hamid Drake, Douglas Ewart, and countless others. Stewart is also a curator and presenter of multiple concert series in Washington, D.C. (he is a co-founder of Capital Bop, which is dedicated to promoting, presenting and preserving jazz in that city) and New York, a writer, activist, producer and D.J.

Stewart’s new release features his long-running Silt Trio, with Brian Settles on tenor sax, and drummers Warren “Trae” Crudup III on four studio tracks and Chad Taylor on three live ones. The band’s name is inspired by Stewart’s upbringing along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and the rivers that flow through it. It’s also a metaphor for the indeterminate current of ideas and experiences that settle and filter through the rivers’ rich sediment that end up informing the music. In a subtle tilt from their two prior releases (No Treaspassing (with Crudup) and The Bottom (with Taylor)), Unknown Rivers sees the band pushing away from open improvisation towards compositional form with greater emphasis on rhythmic acuity. As Stewart states in the album’s liner notes: “It is in the rhythm where the Spirit is defined, where the Mystery is revealed.”

It was Stewart’s intention to feature both versions for the trio on the album to highlight the distinct approaches that the two drummers bring to the music. Chad Taylor is a bandleader and also one of the most in-demand musicians on the scene, originally establishing his reputation in Chicago co-leading the

various Chicago Underground configurations with Rob Mazurek and playing with Fred Anderson, Jeff Parker and Matana Roberts. After moving to the East Coast, he’s been active with Marc Ribot, James Brandon Lewis, and with Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die, to name a few. D.C.-based Trae Crudup, who performs in the duo Blacks’ Myths with Stewart, brings a different aesthetic based on his wide-ranging experience playing gospel and go-go, in addition to jazz with such musicians as James Brandon Lewis and in Heroes are Gang Leaders.

A stalwart of the fertile Washington DC jazz scene, Brian Settles performs in groups led by Tomas Fujiwara, Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorson, and Jonathan Finlayson, in addition to being a bandleader in his own right. A true, under-sung original, he plays with a quiet intensity, possessing a distinctive sound that reminds of players from a distant past set against a modernist’s vocabulary. His playing is filled with patience and understatement, with power in reserve that is used with musical intention rather than to bludgeon. Stewart is the master of a deep, wide groove that cushions and propels, making every musical situation he finds himself in sound good. Even as a titular leader, his playing is always at service to the group. His is a deeply intuitive sound, hard-earned from playing with the music’s elders and his peers on thousands of live performances – he estimates that he plays over 200 gigs a year – rather than from an academic setting.

The Quietus has called the Silt Trio “gripping… relying on subtlety and insinuation to register its uncanny power.” Their playing is loosely conversational, with an obvious shared reverence for music that Stewart says is “rooted in the spirit, with respect for African rhythms, and always shooting for that natural feeling.” Unknown Rivers is that magical juxtaposition of playing with raw spontaneity while maintaining the music’s intent and purpose.