Sticks and Stones Shed Grace Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Second album from eclectic Chicagoan trio led by saxophonist Matana Roberts.

Peter Marsh 2004

Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (or AACM) has been home to some of the most forward thinking jazzers to come out of the US for over thirty years now; Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, and of course the Art Ensemble of Chicago are but a few. Common to all of these players (and central to Chicagoan musical history in general) is an unforced eclecticism that treats R 'n' B honking, free improvised blowing and 20th century classical composition as equal partners in the creation of new, adventurous jazz.

Sticks and Stones are a trio very much in that tradition. Fronted by alto saxophonist and AACM member Matana Roberts, they're as likely to cover Fela Kuti as Monk, which incidentally is just what they do on this engaging record. Bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor complete the trio, taking time off from other projects including the Chicago Underground duo/trio/quartet/orchestra and acoustic minimalists Town & Country. This is their second album, and it's clear from the outset that this is a band with a lot of playing under their belts.

Roberts is a fluid, elegant player who rejects the star soloist approach of many a saxophonist faced with the trio format. Her empathy with Abrams and Taylor results in a genuine trio music, and her thoughtful, assured contributions are occasionally confined to providing riffs or melodies throughout a piece rather than extended displays of scale crunching.

Even when Roberts raises the note count,she never overpowers the warm, supple drive of the rhythm section, and on the slower pieces she plays with a lovely sense of space. It's hard to pin down her influences which is always a good sign - on "Ishtafan" she sounds like early Steve Lacy with a whiff of Johnny Hodges.

Many of the pieces ride on spare, quietly insistent pulses that owe as much to dub or African grooves as to jazz. Taylor is turning out to be one of the most consistently interesting and inventive drummers around, as anyone who's seen him live will tell you. Like his partners, his technical ability is matched by a willingness to listen to what's going on and respond sensitively to it. Which is what jazz is all about, isn't it? Highly recommended.

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