Louis Stewart and Noel Kelehan: Some Other Blues

Previously unissued set from the Irish guitarist reminds he was world class, his duet with pianist Kelehan recalling Bill Evans and Jim Hall

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JJ recently reviewed the reissue of Louis Stewart’s classic solo album Out On His Own, one of my desert island discs. This previously unissued duo album, with pianist Noel Kelehan, approaches it in quality. The improvising, on an excellent programme mostly of standards, has a beautifully purity, sound and lyricism.

Stewart is on the highest level as a jazz guitarist, and should be spoken of with such masters as Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow and Jim Hall. But his recorded legacy as leader is slight. As his colleague Ronan Guilfoyle comments in an online obituary, by far the most satisfying recordings under his own name were made in the late 70s, when he worked regularly in London, building a career. This recording belongs to that period, and his playing is sonorous, incisive and richly controlled. The album was recorded in 1977, in the same studio as Out On His Own. The album masters were rediscovered during the reactivation of Livia Records in 2022.

The guitarist and pianist duet on seven uptempo tunes from Gigi Gryce, John Coltrane, Tadd Dameron, Jerome Kern and others, and on two ballads, one by Kelehan. Kelehan wrote and conducted bands and orchestra for radio and TV, notably Ireland’s Eurovision entries from 1965 onwards. That’s a feature of small jazz scenes – multi-tasking and crossing genres. This must be one of his finest jazz efforts. He’s an excellent accompanist, who’s richly absorbed the lessons of Bill Evans. His tendency to rush in his solos is forgiven by the richness of his ideas, and it’s not found on the slower pieces.

There’s a familiarity about some of Stewart’s phrasing, as Lee Konitz would say, but close attention shows that these are never licks. He’s a late master of mainstream jazz guitar whose repertoire and ability put him with the more adventurous players of his generation, as my colleague Mick Wright comments. He adds that Stewart’s sound varied subtly from decade to decade as he changed guitars and amps; here and on Out On His Own, it matches Jim Hall’s with Bill Evans on Undercurrent. A beautiful release. 

Discography
Yesterdays; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; I Only Have Time To Say I Love You; Minority; I’ll Remember April; Some Other Blues; Singin’ In The Rain (44.34)
Stewart (g); Kelehan (p). Dublin, August 1977.
Livia LRCD2301