|Sticks and Stones is a collaborative trio featuring alto saxophonist Matana Roberts, bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Chad Taylor. All have their roots in the Chicago avant-garde — Roberts with the AACM, Abrams with Town and Country, Taylor with the Chicago Underground. They each contribute three tunes to this debut disc, and also make room for inspired readings of "Lose My Number," by the revered trumpeter and jazz educator John McNeil, and "Sons of Slaves," by reggae legend Lee "Scratch" Perry. As befits edgy, spontaneous music like this, the recording is pure and unvarnished. The group's loose but purposeful interplay veers in and out of tempo, ranging from the funky, bass-driven grooves of "Equally Strong" and "Spaces" to the freebop swing of "Usetosay" to the quite abstract terrain of "Hannibul." The reggae cover features electronically modified drum sounds and just a hint of wah on the sax. Taylor's creativity comes to the fore on "Turning the Mark" and "Spicer," respectively the first and last cuts — both of which feature highly active drumming that contrasts starkly with the sparse, almost mournful moods established by alto and bass.
"Matana Roberts plays the saxophone with full-bodied tonality. On Sticks and Stones, she and her associates, bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor (also of the Chicago Underground Duo) play a series of original tunes where the improvised music has a significant degree of warmth to match its unstructured character. Each of the trio (and two other composers) contributed tunes for the set. The music has pulsating motivation and flowing spirituality to go along with its improvised nature. Roberts spins out rounds of freely constructed phases that are underwritten by the throbbing bass lines of Abrams and the intricate percussive patterns of Taylor. She goes on extended journeys into the core of the tunes, building the selections into vibrant and commanding statements on free expression. Roberts shows a mellow tone on the ballads and an authoritative voice on the faster paced tunes. Her strength is in her ability to spring off the loosely constructed songs and soar on high with freewheeling improvised but logical sequences. She has considerable command over her horn, and the music she produces is as alluring as it is elusive.
"The foundation established by Abrams and Taylor is fundamental to the success of this recording. Abrams keeps a foothold on terra firma but emits enough momentum to convey the movement of a space traveler through his diverse bowing and strumming. Taylor is all over his drum kit, pounding out a rhythmic base that moves off the line into abstract territory. He uses alternate percussion effects on "Son of Slaves" to turn the rhythms into shimmering echoes. This backdrop from Abrams and Taylor allows Roberts to take wing and fly consistently. She brings elements of many of the great saxophone players to the table, but without question, she has a unique tone and way of phrasing that is devoid of rough edges or imitativeness. Her solos seem to roll off her tongue effortlessly, but they contain depth, fluidity, and character.
"Roberts is a new voice for me, but her draw and appeal was immediate. This is a recording that needs broad exposure."
- Frank Rubolino, One Final Note