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Sticks and Stones
Signal to Noise review

Saxophonist Matana Roberts was a regular at jam sessions in Hyde Park (on Chicago's South Side) around the time I moved there about five years ago - I remember backing her on drums on "Impressions" one night. Back then, she was one of the most provocative and skilled improvisers in that scene, but had a stridency that could be rough on the musical tastebuds after a while. It's an intriguing surprise that hitting the East Coast seems to have mellowed Roberts a bit, as she demonstrates an ability to deliver low-key melodies gently on several cuts here. Roberts is joined here by bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor, two names which should be quite familiar to followers of Chicago's new generation of jazz and post-rock players. The "out" tracks here demonstrate their mastery of that tradition, but that cuts both ways - we get Ornette-ish outings here ("Usetosay"), late Coltrane preaching there ("Hannibul"), and Braxton-esque convoluted melodies elsewhere ("Spicer"), but not much truly new. (Granted, no other sax trio to my knowledge has offered a Lee Perry homage, as the group does here with "Sons of Slaves"). Sticks and Stones charts more unique territory on the several ostinato-based cuts, with Taylor coming up with many ways of working with and against the others. Throughout, though, this trio proves that it knows its stuff and demonstrates that the new generation of free jazzers is alive and thriving.

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