For its first CD, Stone’s Stew (named after drummer and bandleader Jared Stone) mixes traditional jazz elements with modern cool.
The tradition comes from a set composed almost entirely of well-chosen neo-standards from the post-bop era, including Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me,” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.” (Original material consists of the brief introduction and coda, and “Rico’s Bag” by guitarist Alan Parker.)
The modern cool comes largely from Stone’s drumming, which is very much in the jazz-rock-funk groove. Stone is a capable and imaginative timekeeper. There is no forgetting that this is a drummer-led session, and the rock-steady framework is ever-present.
At its best, the propulsive approach breathes new life into old compositions, and the compositions are far richer than the typical groove-band riffs. On the downside, the relentless 4/4 is a bit lead-footed for agile compositions like “Footprints,” which is also marred by an abrupt axe-slice ending edit.
“Rico’s Bag,” which has the advantage of having no legendary versions for comparison, fits comfortably into the mix.
The band, including Jason Gay on sax, Alan Parker on guitar and Jon Cannon on bass, is in good form throughout, with guest appearances from trumpeter Taylor Barnett, flautist and pianist Kofi Burnbridge, and percussionist Yonrico Scott. The players trade sections with a loose-limbed freedom and interplay that bodes well for future recordings, and Parker’s unpredictable solos are a particular plus.
The groove treatments may make these great compositions more accessible to those new to jazz, without alienating more hard-core listeners. It’s a difficult recipe to prepare, but Stone Stew succeeds. — Peter McElhinney
Meade Skelton “They Can’t Keep Me Down” (Golden Voice) *1/2
It’s one thing when a musician’s songs convey determination and spirit. It’s another thing when the performer carries a huge chip on his shoulder. The songs on Skelton’s latest CD unfortunately exude much more of the latter than the former.
That’s not to say Skelton totally misses the mark. He has a very easy-on-the-ears singing style and his country-music influences are respectable. His keyboard playing is rudimentary but worthy. As a product, the CD sounds fine and the band kicks in with heart. There are slick guitar breaks throughout. But the songs are lyrically so heavy-handed that it’s tough to warm up to them.
A listener immediately learns Skelton is the classic underdog toughing it out in an unforgiving world. He’s been ridiculed for his weight and lifestyle. He’s going nowhere on a rocky road. He gets no respect from women. Well, that’s all very fine, because we all feel that way from time to time. But get over it. Maybe if the songs were a little more poetic in intent rather than loud and proud, a listener could feel a little more connection or empathy.
As it is, lines such as “When I walk the streets of this town/Everybody starts lookin’ down,” and “I’m gonna write my name all over this stinkin’ town” sound simple and vindictive. Then there are the unfathomable lines such as “You bore me to tears with everything you say/I don’t want to be your old hay.”
No doubt, Skelton will continue writing and expressing himself musically. That’s great. More power to him. Music is wonderful therapy. But it might be time to move on in terms of subject matter. Bets are on here that a less severe lyrical approach might find Skelton the audience he so desperately seeks. — Ames
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