|Jazz trio Sticks and Stones formed years ago when drummer Chad Taylor, bassist Josh Abrams and alto saxophonist Matana Roberts met each other at a performance space in Chicago. Roberts and Abrams had played extensively at open jam sessions at Fred Anderson's legendary Chicago club, The Velvet Lounge. The three immensely enjoyed playing together, and thanks to Fred Anderson soon became the house band at the Sunday night Velvet Lounge sessions. It took nearly four years of playing together before they adopted the name "Sticks and Stones," (the name of a favorite song of Chad Taylor), and an even longer time before the released their first album, 2002's Sticks and Stones (on Chicago's 482 Music).
Their second and newest release, Shed Grace, is their first on Thrill Jockey. It was recorded at Semaphore Studios with Ken B. Brown (Directions in Music, Tortoise, Pullman). The album was recorded in two February sessions following their first ever US tour (February of 2003), and a third and final session in October. It was recorded live to tape using no edits or overdubs, preserving all of the spontaneous energy and raw excitement of their live shows. Shed Grace is largely original compositions (songwriting split equally among the three). The eclectic selection of covers includes songs by Fela Kuti, Thelonious Monk, and Billy Strayhorn.
Bass player Abrams and Drummer Taylor are well established and prolific jazz musicians, both of whom have recently released albums on Delmark Records. Abrams' album, Cipher, has been met with rave reviews and is his first since last year's Busride Interview. Taylor's group, Active Ingredients, recently released their debut, Titration. However it is Matana that truly shines as an exciting and revelatory presence on Shed Grace. Roberts spends her days busking in the New York City subways and writes about it in her zine, WORDS. Much like a mentor of hers, Fred Anderson, she finds a pristine balance between being delicately melodic and powerfully headstrong. It is unusual to find someone so young with such a mature ear, and melodic sense. Matana Roberts stands out as an exuberating new face, and together with Abrams and Taylor, Shed Grace is their strongest statement yet.