The late composer Jerome Kern had a hand in making guitarist Rick Stone’s Fractals a postbop treat. First, there’s the album’s title track, a vibrant, angular reconfiguring of “All the Things You Are” that swings despite its abstract designs. Then there’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” another Kern classic, which is even more melodically insinuating than usual, thanks not only to the finesse Stone displays while softly illuminating the theme with glowing chords, but to bassist Marco Panascia. Like Stone, Panascia improvises fluidly on the tune without compromising its inherent charm. Rounding out the trio is drummer Tom Pollard, who adds shimmering accents to the ballads gathered here.
Among those, by the way, is another album highlight, Billy Strayhorn’s seldom-heard “Ballad for Very Sad and Very Tired Lotus Eaters.” The arrangement, elegantly bracketed by arpeggios, is soulful and haunting, rhythmically hushed and harmonically subtle. Still, the majority of tunes on Fractals were composed by Stone, and they allow the trio to explore a variety of moods nimbly. “Key Lime Pie” showcases Stone’s popping, buoyant tone. “The Phrygerator,” a “Giant Steps”-inspired burner, pays spirited tribute to John Coltrane. And, yes, “Speed Bump” is as rhythmically fitful as its title suggests.
In the album’s liner notes, Stone mentions the pleasure he derives from being a longtime member of New York City’s jazz guitar community. He may not be as well known as some of his peers, but as Fractals illustrates, his skills are top tier.