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June 2007

Steve Adelson
Adventures in Stickology
Essay

After meeting instrument inventor Emmett Chapman at a guitar expo in 1983, Steve Adelson was transformed from guitarist to Chapman Stick player. He’s since become one of the few musicians in jazz to specialize in the tapping, 12-string hybrid between a guitar and a bass full-time. Adelson continues his crusade on Adventures in Stickology.

Yet the Stick functions best when played solo, to highlight its simultaneous guitar-and-bass qualities, or in limited doses, the way bassist Tony Levin uses it. Here, Adelson employs different guitarists on practically every tune, alternately using the Stick to provide bass lines or melodic counterpoint. Original highlights include the Jeff Beck-ish “And on Blue Guitar” (with guitarist Dean Brown) and the Stick-and-guitar duet “Toby or Not Toby” (with Toby Walker). Elsewhere, the notes between Adelson and the guitarists become a guessing game as to who’s playing what. And Levin’s guest appearance as a fretless bassist on “Planetarium” only serves to point out that the Stick is not yet an end in itself, only a means to an end.

Adelson’s cover-tune choices are likewise hit-and-miss. Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and “’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” both come up short of the original versions. Yet the Beatles’ “Blackbird” gets a full-throttle arrangement with guitarist Stephane Wrembel and percussionist David Langlois, and Wes Montgomery’s “Sun Down” is a relaxed trio piece with guitarist Ben Lacy and percussionist Nydia “Liberty” Mata. Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” which closes the disc, is the overall highlight. A duet with Phil DeGruy (on the 17-string Guitarp), it skirts the familiar melody before quoting both it and the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.”

Originally published in June 2007
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