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The trio Sticks And Stones played together for years as the house band for Fred Anderson’s Chicago Velvet Lounge before formally naming themselves. I’m thinking they should rename themselves the Virtuous Sticks and Stones.
The name change could act as a descriptor; they are indeed the most patient young band playing music today. Where others would wail and rip through the minimally free music they create, the patient S&S slowly develop their themes.
Shed Grace follows the 2002 self-titled Sticks And Stones debut on 482 Music and presents an evolving ensemble sound. Matana Roberts, now living in New York and playing with Burnt Sugar, borrows from Fred Anderson’s book, but certainly must be listening to the recordings of Evan Parker. She has a way of engaging quiet extended technique that is referential to Anderson, Parker, and Ornette—yet has a distinctive touch of calm. Chad Taylor (also now living in NY) of the various Chicago Underground incarnations can be heard on the new trio disc Slon and in his band Active Ingredients on their debut Titration (Delmark). Josh Abrams of Town & Country and The Roots released a stellar disc on Delmark, Cipher, last year.
The trio plays seven originals plus covers of Fela Kuti, Thelonious Monk and Billy Strayhorn. To grasp their style, you need to look no farther than the covers. They begin Monk’s “Skippy” by deconstructing the theme, almost sounding if they are playing it backwards. They dance around and over the theme, Chad Taylor coloring in fits and starts while Josh Abrams alters the time. They have extracted the essence of the song without directly referencing other’s interpretations.
Likewise, Fela Kuti’s “Colonial Mentality” displays a twisting African sound anchored in Taylor’s pulse and Abrams drive. Remember the African sounds John Lurie incorporated on the Voice Of Chunk recordings? Strayhorn’s “Ishfahan” is reverential to the beauty of the composition with its solemn blues feel. S&S play Strayhorn almost straight, with some fine intro and exit solo work by the saxophonist.
They leave plenty of room in each of the tracks heard here for the flavor of each instrument and player to be heard, really heard. Nothing is rushed here. S&S sound as if they learned quite a bit about composure at the school of Fred Anderson.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.