A saxophone trio, as the name implies, is usually the reedist's gig. Sticks and Stones, on the other hand, is a collective enterprise--you'll notice the band's not called "the Matana Roberts Trio." Reedist Roberts, drummer Chad Taylor, and bassist Josh Abrams (all current or former Chicagoans--Roberts and Taylor have moved to New York) each bring original compositions to the table, and their arrangements avoid the format's traditional string-of-solos approach. Though everyone makes their fair share of improvised statements, more impressive is the way the group works together, both on written passages and on the fly: on their second album, Shed Grace (Thrill Jockey), the three musicians regularly shift between foreground and background roles. Over the roiling groove of the title track, marked by Taylor's swirling full-kit splatter and Abrams's abstract bowed patterns, Roberts plays an alto sax melody that recalls Albert Ayler's treament of African-American spirituals, especially in his quintet with his brother Donald and violinist Michel Samson. "Wordful" puts Taylor in the spotlight: while a mournful alto-bass theme comes and goes, the drummer delivers equally melancholy melodic phrases on his toms. On "Veatrice" there's little improvisation, just a looping bass-drums groove and Roberts shading an African-flavored melody with different degrees of breathiness each time through. Sticks and Stones also puts its imprint on an eclectic batch of covers: there's a dialed-down, dubby take on Fela's Afrobeat classic "Colonial Mentality" and a gorgeously lyric spin on Billy Strayhorn's elegant "Ishfahan"; a brief take on Monk's "Skippy" is built from short fragments of the melody, with the whole theme stated only at the very end. $10. Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sam Prekop.