Album reviews

Louis Stewart & Noel Kelehan – ‘Some Other Blues’ (rec. 1977)

Louis Stewart & Noel Kelehan – Some Other Blues

(Livia Records LRDC2301. Album review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.


Jazz albums featuring nothing but guitar and piano are such a rarity that until recently – excepting the two Bill Evans / Jim Hall collaborations Undercurrent (1962) and Intermodulation (1966) – I’d have struggled to name any. Even the two acclaimed Metheny/Mehldau albums (2006 and 2007) don’t count, as they include tracks augmented by bass and drums. So what are the odds that not one but two purely guitar/piano duo albums should be released on exactly the same day, 26 May 2023?

One was Rain Shadows by Bruno Heinen and James Kitchman (LJN review here), and the other is Some Other Blues by guitarist Louis Stewart and pianist Noel Kelehan. Both albums are indebted to their Evans/Hall precursors, albeit with stylistically different results and actually recorded far apart in time, Rain Shadows this year but Some Other Blues in 1977. And the big surprise is not the shared release date but why an album as stunning as Some Other Blues was allowed to gather dust for 46 years. Especially as it’s the only recording on which two of Ireland’s greatest jazz virtuosi can be heard playing together.

Stewart left Ireland in 1969 for a jazz career in London, appearing on over 70 albums and performing with (amongst many others) Tubby Hayes, Benny Goodman, Ronny Scott, Peter King and George Shearing. Noel Kelehan, however, released only one jazz album in his lifetime, Ozone (1979) because he stayed in Ireland for a career as a conductor, arranger and producer, leaving little time for jazz: between 1966 and 1998, he became the Eurovision Song Contest’s most prolific orchestral conductor, notching up 29 Eurovision entries, of which 24 were Irish (including five out of Ireland’s seven winners); in 1973 he joined RTE, Ireland’s public service broadcaster; and he even created the string arrangements for U2’s Unforgettable Fire (1984).

Kelehan’s compositional skills are in evidence on the ballad I Only Have Time to Say I Love You (which also appears on his Ozone album), where he and Stewart achieve a beautiful Evans/Hall level of empathy and delicacy – as they also do on the other ballads, If You Could See Me Now and Sometime Ago, and on a fast but lyrical Yesterdays. And talking of speed, it’s pedal to the floor for You Stepped Out of a Dream, Minority, and I’ll Remember April (which is played at an incredible 285bpm). For these prestissimo numbers a good comparison is Joe Pass and Oscar Peterson, in that no matter how breakneck the tempi Stewart and Kelehan never sound rushed, their quicksilver runs gliding by with grace and precision. Rounding out this most satisfying set of mainly standards are Coltrane’s Some Other Blues and a marvellously deconstructed Singin’ in the Rain, Stewart supplying a catchy vamp while Kelehan pecks out the melody.

One reason that this recording took so long to come to light is that Livia Records ceased operations in 2005 with the death of its founder, the Dublin painter Gerald Davis – but the label was revived in 2021 by executive producer Dermot Rogers. According to the 12-page booklet that accompanies the CD, more reissues are on the way. Let’s hope the vaults turn up other rare gems as good as this one.

LINKS: Some Other Blues on Bandcamp

Stephen Keogh remembers Louis Stewart (from 2016)

Adam Sieff’s review of Out on His Own

Biography of Louis Stewart / Obituary of Noel Kelehan

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

Leave a Reply