Dusted Reviews

Sticks and Stones - Shed Grace

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Sticks and Stones

Album: Shed Grace

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Apr. 30, 2004

This trio’s handle is a fitting encapsulation of their materials and approach. Adopting what has become the most rudimentary and workaday configuration in creative improvised music - that of reeds-bass-drums - these three players still manage to create something fresh and personal. Their success curve seems due in no small part to the diversity of their interests and skills on their respective instruments. Matana Roberts, who limits herself to alto saxophone and clarinet, is a member of Chicago’s AACM. Bassist Josh Abrams is a charter member of the Chicago ensembles Town and Country and Terminal 4. Finally, there’s Chad Taylor, who’s logged time with a handful of other Windy City outfits, such as Fred Anderson's bands and the Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet. All three members also double on percussion on Shed Grace, the follow-up to their 2002 debut on 482 Music.

The title track is based on a hymn-like motif, which Roberts plays on alto over an eddying current of drums and emory board arco bass. It’s a melodic fragment that could easily come from the horn of someone like Joe McPhee. Her ensuing improvisation deals in geyser-like spurts of notes, matching the rhythmic spray of her partners. The relative simplicity and directness of the piece is present in many of the later tracks and becomes one of the disc’s chief charms. In contrast, “The Refusal” is the longest track of the set. Beginning with wooden drums, gongs and what is presumably Abrams’ Agogo bell, the AACM (and, more specifically, Art Ensemble of Chicago) influence feels strong here. Roberts re-enters in the low register of her clarinet, dancing playfully atop a bobbing beat born from nimble pizzicato bass and Taylor’s spacious pulse-driven drumming. Abrams mixes clusters of elastic snaps with more drawn out notes which eventually engage Roberts in a call-and-response colloquy a la Mingus and Dolphy circa Mingus Presents Mingus. Taylor joins in on pattering brushes and fingers fluttering from cymbals to snare surfaces prior to a final sally through the swaying cadential theme. Roberts’ “Veatrice” works from similar modest beginnings, this time sounding like one of Anderson’s vamp-fueled Velvet Lounge blues numbers. “Wonder Twins” reveals the age of the players, young enough to recall Saturday morning conclaves with the Super Friends.

In addition to the bulk of originals, the trio also selects a trilogy of choice covers. On Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy,” Roberts rides through an oblique, burr-laden approximation of the angular theme on alto. Fela Kuti’s “Colonial Mentality,” nabbed from the album Sorrow, Tears and Blood, receives the royal treatment as the trio revels in the tune’s fat anchoring groove on the back of Abrams’ fleshy ostinato and a sliding dub-inflected beat. The choice of Billy Strayhorn’s “Ishfahan” demonstrates some deep ears and the three do the evergreen ballad due justice with a lush reading free from artifice. The disc’s running time holds to just past the scope of a single vinyl LP and it’s a welcome change of pace to hear a band favoring brevity over unnecessary mileage.

By Derek Taylor

Other Reviews of Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Read More

View all articles by Derek Taylor

Find out more about Thrill Jockey

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.