"Adventures in Stickology" CD - Steve Adelson

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Review by Emmett Chapman

Guest artists Tony Levin, Chieli Minucci, Ben Lacy, Dean Brown, Stephane Wrembel, Phil Degruy, Little Toby Walker, Donnie Celenza and Kerry Kearney.

To the uninitiated, jazz appears as merely a musical style, with an overall sameness in sound, as in "all that jazz". The incredible diversity of jazz stylists and expression of individual personalities is usually missed.

After witnessing a few jazz innovators and stylists in action, however, it finally sinks in - you can't ever pin this music down. More to the point, jazz is an idealized form of communication where everybody is free to talk at once in an agreed upon framework of harmony and rhythm, and if all goes well, everybody listens together too.

You have to be "seasoned", of course, conversant in the general language in order to speak music and listen at the same time. Seasoned maturity is what Steve Adelson brings to his newly released CD, "Adventures in Stickology", a series of live duos with eight distinctive jazz guitar stylists (and one song with bassist Tony Levin). Some of these encounters are backed by drums or percussion for a more dynamic and colorful trio presentation. Others are just the core ideas, Steve on Stick with a friend on guitar discovering in live recording sessions how their styles will jell. This album is almost all strings but the chemistry of musical personalities radically changes with each song. The common thread is Steve's smooth and effortless jazz bass, lead, chords, arpeggios and MIDI'd orchestrations, usually all played at once on his 12-string Grand Stick.

Over and above the notable instrumental skills present on this album, there is the larger jazz ethic of improvisation and interplay "on the fly", so to speak. Steve finds a way to "meld" with each guitarist on that artist's own stylistic terms, each reading the motion of the other's mind. The overall result is an incredible variety show of strings, jazz, styles and empathy.

Track list of Stickist Steve's successive encounters with guitarists:

1) Chieli Minucci's jazz guitar is articulate with tasteful, graceful lead lines. Steve's 12-string Grand Stick and John Favicchia's trap drums make it a full jazz trio.

2) Ben Lacy's guitar is percussive with a unique, intricate rhythmic technique, then it goes double-time and finally triples in speed. Steve matches this tuneful finger drumming on Stick - a duo of 18 strings.

3) Dean Brown's guitar expresses funk and soul with tasty tube distortion and singing sustain. Steve's Stick supports from the bass on up through chordal vamps and orchestral textures via his Roland VG-88 multi-effects guitar processor. John's drums add dynamics and colorful phrasing to this trio.

4) Lacy's guitar percussion again - a funky arrangement of Stevie Wonder's hit single, "I Wish". Steve joins in to make it a duo and the string percussion reaches new intensity.

5) Kerry Kearney's slide guitar "speaks" strongly as the lead voice, backed by Steve's flamenco progressions on Stick and Nydia Mata's complimentary and colorful percussion.

6) Toby Walker's fingerpicking guitar in duo with Steve covers the entire "bluegrass" sonic range from the very low Stick bass strings on up through the acoustic guitar and mandolin registers.

7) Stephane Wrembel's guitar seems to be stamped with Django Reinhardt's soul and style, from the excited lead lines to the churning rhythm guitar chords. Here it is uniquely employed in the familiar Lennon and McCartney tune, "Blackbird". Steve plays a tight unison theme together with supporting bass line. David Langlois holds down a driving rhythm on an authentic washboard, pie tin and fondue pot, and even takes a wild solo.

8) Donnie Celenza's expressive electric guitar sound dominates in this ballad by Wonder, "Cause We've Ended as Lovers", with soaring/diving passages and slow, sustained vibratos. Steve's Stick bass and lead melody along with John's drums form a tasteful trio with Steve and Donnie trading powerful solo spots.

9) Lacy plays straight jazz guitar this time in a tight arrangement of Wes Montgomery's "Sundown", together with Steve's walking bass, chordal vamps and unison theme. Nydia's solid Latin percussion makes it a trio.

10) Tony Levin's fretless bass takes an expressive lead with distortion and a sliding technique on Steve's ballad, "Planetarium". Steve accompanies on Stick with MIDI'd chordal "pads" and a simple bass line. John's drums expand the trio sound.

11) Chieli's speedy and versatile guitar style again, in a dynamic, improvising trio with Steve and John.

12) The track list ends with legendary Phil DeGruy's multi-stringed guitar, the 17-stringed "Guitarp", which merges beautifully in duo with Steve's Grand Stick on Eric Clapton's "Layla". So many strings, 29 in all, have great orchestral depth and potential, ranging from Steve's low bass, through Phil's polished guitar register and all the way up to the harp like highs plucked from his array of short, non-fretted strings.

What a great idea to showcase all these exceptional guitar talents and hold it all together by way of a common theme, that is, Steve's Grand Stick and his willingness to take it into any artist's territory.

Excellent listening, Emmett.

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