Essential New Music: Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio’s “The Bottom”

The Silt Trio’s name clues you in to its relationship with history. The group churns layers of accumulated knowledge, mixing it up, taking it downstream and spreading it around. In the music he’s played with Irreversible Entanglements, Heart Of The Ghost and the Exposure Quintet, as well as his work programming concerts and radio shows, Washington, D.C., bassist and bandleader Luke Stewart has already established himself as someone who wants to know it all—and share what he knows. But this group, which includes drummer Chad Taylor (whose tenure with the Chicago Underground and numerous other projects with Rob Mazurek gets him tagged as a Chicagoan, though he actually lives in Philadelphia) and D.C.-based tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, makes it a first order of business to dredge up the comprehension of past eras.

One stratum of information in Silt Trio’s music is the African essence of jazz. On “Reminiscence,” Stewart’s gently swaying groove looks to Mali by way of Don Cherry, and Taylor’s chiming mbira affirms his first-hand involvement with the music of Zimbabwe. Scrape a bit more, and you’ll find the threesome’s engagement with jazz as social music; both “Roots” and “The Bottom” will compel you to move some body parts. Scour further still, and the ensemble’s interaction will show how jazz generates power from collective creative action. The three musicians build “Angles” from scratch, each listening and responding to the others’ ideas over 11 minutes of patient and involving exploration. 

Stewart, Taylor and Settles know that the music is completed anew with the addition of each player’s own story. By turns thoughtful and pungent, Settles’ melodic blowing on “Dream House” feels like a confidential aside. And when he passes the foreground to Stewart, it’s a delight to be let in on the conversation.

—Bill Meyer