Louis Stewart & Noel Kelehan – ‘Some Other Blues’

The previously unreleased Some Other Blues is regarded as a Holy Grail of Irish Jazz as it is the only known studio recording of Louis Stewart and Noel Kelehan. While Stewart was a local hero and internationally renowned guitarist, Kelehan was not well known as a jazz pianist outside of Ireland due to his TV-based composing, arranging and conducting, even though jazz was his first love.

‘Yesterdays’ opens the proceedings in a straight ahead jazz style and the first thing of note is just how well these two musicians play off each other: Louis Stewart has a great tone equally matched by Noel’s deft touch. The press release for this album commented on the blistering pace on numbers such as ‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’ and while the tempo is fast you barely notice it as the playing is so crisp, each note sounded cleanly. ‘I Only Have Time To Say I Love You’ is a beautifully lyrical ballad – penned by Kelehan – with both musicians playing with a sophisticated elegance.

‘Minority’ is another of the up-tempo numbers with some delightful piano lines from Kelehan that contain some wonderful runs but is not overplayed. Stewart matches his friend and mentor with equally impressive guitar playing: it like listening to two players egging each other on and each meeting the challenge in style. ‘I’ll Remember April’ picks up the pace further and you are left wondering just how far the tempo can be pushed without losing control or quality of sound: exemplary! Tadd Dameron’s ballad ‘If You Could See Me Now’ follows and gives the listener time to breathe and absorb at leisure just how good these two musicians are. The phrasing is delightful and the emotional connection palpable.

“The harmonic sophistication is a common feature of the album’s medium and fast tempo tunes, and the arrangements have Noel’s fingerprints all over them. His ability to jump backwards and forwards between keys, and the arrangement of Coltrane’s ‘Some Other Blues’, in which the first two choruses of both the guitar and piano solos feature two chords in every bar which constantly change key, is typical of Noel.” Non of that was written by me, I lifted it straight from the press release pack because it says everything you need to know about track seven, the album’s title track and it is excellent!

‘Some Time Ago’ is another of those tunes where the playing is more relaxed and gives the listener more time to take in the mastery of the playing as Stewart and Kelehan alternate the lead on the melody with its catchy central theme. ‘Singing In The Rain’ is a mischievous take on this very well known tune. Stewart is definitely in the accompanist role here as Kelehan gets the chance to really shine harmonically. This is a clear demonstration of just how good a pianist Kelehan was: playful, swinging and always in control. This final track really did make me smile and is a very good example of how to make something so familiar sound so fresh.

Guitar and piano duet albums are uncommon in jazz, with Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s probably the best known. As Louis and Noel were huge admirers of both, they may well have been an inspiration for Some Other Blues. Having listened to the album a number of times I wonder why this is the only recording of Louis Stewart with his friend and mentor Noel Kelehan – unless of course there is another discovery still to be made. Its very existence emerged in 2022 when Livia Records was being reactivated and rescued from obscurity by executive producer Dermot Rogers. Thanks to its re-emergence this album can be heard for the first time, and generations of listeners can hear Noel and Louis trade solos and comp’ as true equals.

This terrific album is available through Bandcamp from Friday 26 May.

Tracklist + (composers): 1. Yesterdays – (Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach). 2. You Stepped Out Of A Dream – (Nacio Herb Brown, Gus Kahn). 3. I Only Have Time To Say I Love You – (Noel Kelehan). 4. Minority – (Gigi Gryce). 5. I’ll Remember April – (Gene de Paul, Patricia Johnston, Don Raye). 6. If You Could See Me Now – (Tadd Dameron). 7. Some Other Blues – (John Coltrane) 8. Sometime Ago- (Sergio Mihanovich). 9. Singin’ In The Rain- (Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed).

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