Drummer Evan Stone is a musician on the rise. The Winner of the 2006 Orange County (California) Award for Best Jazz is already known for putting together impressively tight bands. With Sticks & Stone, Vol. 1, Stone again assembles a formidable posse. Don’t let the album title’s play on Stone’s name and his love for the sticks mislead you into thinking this is a purely solo effort. As bandleader and co-producer, Stone headlines a lively collaboration between himself (drums), Josh Nelson (piano), Steve Cotter (guitar), Joe Bagg (Hammond B3 organ), Matt Otto (tenor sax), David Miller (bass), Tony Guerrero (trumpet), and Sara Gazarek (vocals). The results are consistently good, from the opening drum roll of “You and the Night and the Music” to the final track, “East of the Sun”. Band members share the spotlight, evidenced by Nelson’s impressive piano handiwork on the aforementioned opener and closer and Otto’s flavorful sax on “KCAMS” and “November Waltz”. Out of the nine selections here, only the somber “Moonlight in Vermont”, midway through the set, offers vocals. Sara Gazarek, a recent graduate of the Thorton School of Music at University of Southern California, does the honors, accentuating the song’s quiet atmosphere with her toasty, mesmerizing tone. In addition to Gazarek’s contributions, Sticks & Stone‘s mixture of original compositions and jazz standards demonstrates the album’s collaborative qualities. While all the tracks are solid, my favorites are “Cheesecake”, “KCAMS”, “Moonlight in Vermont”, “East of the Sun”, and the quirky but funky “Grapes”. The quality of this volume ensures that I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next one.
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