Steve Adelson

Sonic Imagination

2014 CD, 10 tracks, $12

Steve Adelson Stick-Tet
Steve Adelson - Grand Stick and half-fretless Grand Stick
Rachel Z - piano
Chieli Minucci - guitars
Frank Vignola - guitar
Oz Noy - guitar
Ralf Illenberger - guitar
Frank Bellucci - drums
Nydia "Liberty" Mata - percussion
David Langlois - washboard and percussion
Ramona Spooney - vocals

Sample Track Montage

Minor Excursions/ ABCD/ The Garden of Limahuli/ Carnival Ucci

Review by Gene Perry

Steve Adelson's Sonic Imagination is an auditory romp through the many styles and genres of which he is master. It's an Easter egg hunt of an album, with each chocolaty find meticulously painted up in its own unique blend of sound and color. In speaking with Steve, he was quick to point out that "it's not a Stick album". Not a Stick album?! How can that be when you've got a cat like Steve who's so methodically hitting every delicious nuance of the instrument imaginable? It was with great anticipation upon receiving the advance copy that I ripped the CD from the jiffy like pulling mussels from a shell.

Maybe you've never been to a baseball game where the first batter up punches it out of the park on the first pitch, I know I haven't, but you can just imagine the excitement, the awe and energy in the stadium when some guy pulls it out. This was how I felt upon hearing the opening track "Metal Swing". Complete with dream sequences and hot jazz, Steve, along with washboard wizard / percussionist David Langlois and big time jazz man Frank Vignola, get right to the point setting a high level of musicianship and creating a compelling compositional backdrop that perfectly complements each individual players' unique talents.

After my first complete listen through the album, I recalled one of the aspects that Steve was most proud of — the players. Steve seams together all these talented players into a masterful tapestry of evocative and innovative art. Appearing throughout the album are the percussive talents of Cuban native Nydia Liberty Mata, a regular among Adelson gigs in the Long Beach, NY area and Southpaw drummer Frank Bellucci who delivers big throughout the album. Some other notable appearances would include vocalist Ramona Spooney, who lays down some nice vocal textures on Garden of Limhuli, guitarist Oz Noy who whips us up a Pangalactic Gargleblaster on the facemelter of a desert island track "Trio of the Hot Club of Mars" and Ralf Illenberger who teams up with Steve on the playful and energetic track "Sedona Tale". Another notable moment is when Steve lets axeman Chieli Minucci off the leash on the ripping Beck-like anthem "A B C D". With a total of four different guitarists appearing on the album, it's sure to crossover nicely with the guitar community.

My stand out favorite track was "Minor Excursion". It's the nougaty straight up center of Sonic Imagination, showcasing the divine talents of pianist Rachel Z and Bellucci on drums. Steve's mechanics really shine in this format and he's found a perfect paring in Rachel Z. and Bellucci. This is the track Stickists will be talking about, you know the one where Steve is walking lines, comping chords, nailing solos and making it sound easy. Be watching for this one at the next Long Beach Jazz Festival. Stickists will also immediately recognize and appreciate Sonic Imagination’s culminating track, the heartfelt solo Stick piece, "Emmett and Yuta", a touching tip of the hat to the first family of the Chapman Stick.

Even after my third full cover-to-cover listening of Sonic Imagination, I am still feeling that jaw-dropping awe I felt when I first set it off. Adelson has pushed the limits in all the right directions with this latest effort. Sonic Imagination explores new boundaries in creative expression, utilizing imaginative pairings of instruments, a wide variety of rock, jazz and progressive styles and a virtual cornucopia of talent. Is it a Stick album? Perhaps. Is it a good album? No, it's a GREAT album, one that offers lots of replay value for anyone that appreciates musical art in its higher form.

Track Listing, all originals by Steve

 1 Metal Swing
 3 Minor Excursions
 4 Sedona Tale
 5 Garden of Limahuli
 6 Carnival Ucci
 7 Leaded Bee
 8 Like Jeff
 9 Trio of the Hot Club of Mars
10 Emmett and Yuta

recorded in April and May, 2014.

Adventures in Stickology 2007 CD $12.

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.

You can find more info about Steve's work and sample mp3s from this CD at his website

The Answer's Inside 2001 CD $12.

What a great way to introduce Stick players to some authentic jazz with some of the jazz masters! And what a great way to introduce jazz musicians and enthusiasts to The Stick! Steve Adelson has found the perfect role for his MIDI'd Grand Stick in the company of some spirited, adventurous and disciplined jazz musicians including Larry Coryell, Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, and a most creative and innovative pianist, Dennis Moorman.

Steve's "Sticktet" is basically a quintet with piano, guitar, Stick, drums and percussion, with the addition of steel pans and vibes on some songs. Steve plays Stick on every song, taking on the entire bass role and simultaneously soloing and vamping on the melody side of The Stick, in other words, doing what he does best amid various jazz and Latin settings and with the exceptional percussion of Nydia Mata. His left hand walks and punctuates his creative bass-in fifths lines, and more importantly, he remains true to the "ethic" of the jazz upright bassist in his sound and free spirited grooves.

Positioned nicely in the mix, the timbre of Steve's Stick melody side is superb in this jazz setting, not too bright and not too mellow, but rich and with a strange touch of subdued brassiness - a distinct voice to help create the special Stick role. And his Stick bass side fills all jazz requirements (and then some) - a sonic match for the Sticktet. I feel that Steve goes a long way toward establishing The Stick among his peers as an authentic jazz voice.

Stickist Tony Levin and percussionist Jerry Maratta join Steve in trio on "Woodstick Suite", bringing an otherworldly dimension of backwards gliding chordal effects to the jazzscape, with 24 interwoven Stick strings over Jerry's rolling rhythms.

On "Nadda Chants" (my favorite), Larry Coryell takes a long driving blues styled jazz solo accompanied by Steve's bass lines and themes on Stick and pianist Dennis Moorman's exceptional chordal themes and improvs, evocative of the real "McCoy" from the days of John Coltrane's quartet.

"The Answer's Free", appropriately named, is a total group improv. At the session's end Steve put out the word, "Let's just play". The result is a peek into the real jazz behind the jazz - denser, polytonal, and with great dynamic building tension. Steve takes a long MIDI'd melody solo here, his voices are keyboard synth lead and what I would call "jug" vibes.

The album ends with a quick slick Stick no pick rap, all tap, (you'll see). Very tasty. All in all, nothing but fun and always with the element of surprise.

Sailing Down the River, Sane 1996 CD $12.

For those of you who would like to hear what The Stick can do in the hands of an experienced artist in a live jazz setting with vibes, drums and percussion, this CD will put you there. Sailing... documents Steve's two-handed mastery of melodic improvisation supported by his simultaneous Stick bass lines that walk (and sometimes samba) in a relaxed fashion, "breathing" counter to the melody in intensity. He focuses on intuitively tying together jazz bass and melody lines, aiming beyond what most bassists and guitarists can do together.