With artists like Bela Fleck and Bill Frisell broadening the musical landscape over which improvised music can dwell, is it surprising that a group should come along that blends some of their more worldly concerns with a certain element of pop hook and singsong-iness? Banjo player Jayme Stone and guitarist Kevin Manaugh do just that with their group Tricycle, and their inaugural effort, Emerge and See
, manages to mine a roots music space that blends catchy hooks with a foundation for soloing that brings it to the fringes of jazz without ever fully entering it.
Stone has studied with banjo masters including Tony Trischka and, not surprisingly, Fleck himself. While he lacks the same kind of virtuosic technique of either, he does demonstrate the melodic sensibility and genre-busting tendencies of both. With a playing history in a variety of genres, his songs run the gamut from the reggae-meets-folk of "The Roads We Know" to "For Joy," which, with its shifting time feels and Midwestern melodies, would not feel out of place on a Flecktones record.
But whereas Fleck's reputation has partly been built on a complex sound where time signatures change on virtually a bar-by-bar basis, Stone's tunes are humbler vehicles with fewer movements. Still, he knows a thing or two about melody, and there is a certain na've simplicity in his writing that is compelling, as in the relaxed lope of "Murmur," which could come from one of Frisell's Americana records, but leans more towards overt soloing than anything Frisell has done in years.
Like Stone, Manaugh is less about technical wizardry and more about economy, space and lyricism. Unlike Frisell, who shares similar concerns but nevertheless possesses a broader reach, oblique melodicism is replaced by a more direct approach that goes straight to the heart of a theme rather than skirt around it. While much of the beauty of Frisell is in the gradual revelation of ideas, Manaugh's more straightforward concept is equally engaging. As a writer he is less quirky, with "Corrib Theme" being a heartfelt acoustic ballad that would fit comfortably on a record by Martin Simpson or Martin Carthy and "Four Strikes" demonstrating a more authentically countrified disposition.
With bassist Paul Mathew and drummer Kevin Coady providing comfortable and unobtrusive support, Emerge and See also features some elegant work from guest Gordon Allen on trumpet, especially on "Sing It Right," where he contributes some appropriately singable ideas.
Emerge and See is a solid d'but that clearly knows its space. It may not forge its way into altogether new territory, but what it does accomplish is to consolidate the diverse backgrounds of Stone and Manaugh into an approachable and engaging set that, like some of its primary sources, will have a broad crossover appeal.
Visit Tricycle on the web.
Personnel: Jayme Stone (banjo, bow, loops), Kevin Manaugh (guitars), Kevin Coady (drums, percussion), Paul Mathew (double-bass)
Special guest: Gordon Allen (trumpet)