One Track Mind: Rick Stone Trio, “Ballad for Very Sad and Very Tired Lotus Eaters” (2011)

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Rick Stone picks more obvious standards elsewhere on his forthcoming release, Fractals. There is Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight,” given a vampy album-opening 7/4 intro; and a lush take on Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” Stone even swings his way through a seven-and-a-half minute version of Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Darn That Dream.”

But it is here, on an update of his rarely heard tune from Duke Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn, that Stone does his best interpretative work. Beginning with an undulating signature of notes, he draws the uninitiated in, before his regular working rhythm section of bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Tom Pollard join the proceedings.

First there’s Panacia, in a low moan; and then the softest of brush strokes from Pollard. Emboldened, Stone offers one of the album’s most elliptical and involving performances. His playing is as exquisite as it is deft, very in keeping with the sometimes painfully shy visage of the diminutive, deeply underrated composer himself. Ellington’s band nicknamed Strayhorn “Swee’ Pea,” and romantically intuitive tunes like this help us understand why. Stone, playing in a series of almost unbearably beautiful high notes, captures perfectly the bittersweet sentiments, the deep romantic separation associated with “Lotus Eaters.”

Fractals, Rick Stone’s first project as a leader in more than five years, is set for release on July 11 from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Jazzand Records.

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