Trio recordings hold a special place in jazz. Bass and drums, teaming with a piano or guitar, give the front man the most room for instrumental self expression (saxophone out front is a different matter). Though he may not be the busiest of guitarists in terms of recording, with a good stretch of time between Samba de Novembre
(Jazzland, 2004) and Fractals
, Rick Stone shines in the format. Teaching at Jazzmobile and Hofstra, and playing regularly around New York City ensure that his chops remain as razor sharp as ever.
Stone's approach is decidedly straight-ahead, in the manner fellow guitarists Jim Hall
and the late Wes Montgomery
. He is a fine tunesmith, too, though he opens Fractals
with a familiar standard, "Stella By Starlight." The song starts off darkly, but then the stars rise, and Stone takes the melody on a sprightly run, with an inspired section of improvisation. Bassist Marco Panascia
and drummer Tom Pollard
are mostly understatedmore backing the leader than interactingthough they do get their chances show off their solo prowess in short, succinct turns.
The trio flies a bit freer on the title tune, a Stone original with sharper edges on the angles of his sound, and more bounce in the rhythm. The mood shifts to the exuberant side on "Key Lime Pie," leading into a lovely, laidback take on the familiar Jimmy Van Heusen/Eddie DeLange
classic, "Darn That Dream." The bass/drum accompaniment is just a whisper, as Stone patiently unfolds his re-harmonization of this beautiful tune.
Stone's "Speed Bump" rolls with an easy swing along a straight bebop groove, and his "Nacho Momma's Blues" finds the guitarist riding the momentum of Pollard's sizzling cymbals on the most modern sounding tune of the set.
In the "surprise category," the trio offers up "Ballad for Very Sad Lotus Eaters," a rare jewel from the pen of composer, pianist and Duke Ellington
's alter ego Billy Strayhorn
. It is a delicately lovely ballad taken at a deliberate pace to be savored, contrasting nicely with Stone's set-closing "The Phrygerator," with a medium-heat, forward-leaning and tightly wound sound wrapping up this first-rate set of jazz guitar.