After releasing two full length albums and one EP in the past three years Jon Stickley Trio has become a fully formed musical power trio touching on, and seamlessly combining genres from bluegrass to punk, and from avant-guard jazz to hip hop. The Trio melds Jon Stickley’s rapid-fire flatpicking guitar with the sultry and wild, yet refined, melodies of Lyndsay Pruett on violin set over the deep groove of Patrick Armitage on drums.
The Trio is touring with Maybe Believe [independently released May 12, 2017] which was produced by Dave King (Of The Bad Plus) at Echo Mountain Recording Studio with Engineer Julian Dryer in the band’s hometown of Asheville, NC. The all instrumental group delves into textural soundscapes and focuses on improvisation within creative arrangements, that highlights each musician’s unique background and skillset. The result is an open ended musical conversation which takes the listener on a cinematic journey with results ranging from groove-focused dancing to standing slack jawed with bewildered appreciation.
“The latest record from the Jon Stickley Trio flexes new and strong muscles, utilizing more progressive structures and deeper pockets than ever before,” says King. “All the while, the group retains its place as a modern-thinking acoustic ensemble with one foot in tradition and the other in a bluegrass honored future that allows for the avant garde, punk, and be bop to mix in freely and tastefully.”
With Maybe Believe, they have become more comfortable in their own skin yet retain an element of vulnerability while continuing to move into uncharted territory, marking it the next step in the band’s evolution. King says, “I was honored to be a part of this evolution and I think we made a very compelling album for music fans and musicians of all kinds.”
Stickley says, “We had just gotten to know Dave last time and had such a good time. Bringing him in again takes the whole thing up a notch. It was a completely different experience, after traveling all over the place touring [in 2016 the Trio drove over 50,000 miles], over time we’ve developed a cohesion as a band where we intimately know each other and can feel where each other is wanting to go and respond. It’s developed into a tight musical relationship.”
“Recording at Echo Mountain is always such a pleasure, the energy… the vibe… all of that… “ reflects Patrick Armitage. “And the engineer we worked with, Julian, knows us and our style and has this ability to really capture our essence because we have already done a record before with him. He brought that out in us and helped us to become even more of what we are.”
The album’s opening track, “Jewels,” is a short, mellow, piece which serves as the album’s prologue, setting the tone of the record, quieting the mind of the listener. Then they go full throttle with “Playpeople,” an eclectic piece that draws inspiration from Green Day, Duran Duran, Grateful Dead, and David Grisman Quintet. “Almost With You” and “Mt. Sandia Swing” highlight the Jon Stickley Trio’s ability and inclination to play with polyrhythms and layer different grooves on top of each other. Dave King described “Sandia” as “The Violent Femmes… playing Jazz.”
Jon Stickley’s music brings forth mental imagery in songs like “Slow Burn,” which is a like simmering pot of stew that occasionally boils over, while “Microbruise” embraces the fun-loving nature of Asheville’s beer brewers and drinkers, and “Cecil” is the Trio’s heaviest song yet featuring seamless interplay between guitar and violin with a sludgy, old school, John Bonham style drumbeat.
The aforementioned songs were all penned by Stickley, while Lyndsay Pruett’s hand brings forth a couple of jazzier numbers. A highlight of the record, “The Price of Being Nice” has a quirky, infectious theme that is explored throughout the song with a somewhat deconstructed treatment that allows the Trio to shine. Pruett also wrote “Lady Time,” a short solo song that closes out the album that features her distinctive pizzicato playing and improvisations.
“Jon and I are more in sync that ever now, there is a synchronicity that is just so natural and quick that happens in our music.” Lyndsay Pruetts explains, “The process of going through the songs and creating them has that fluidity as well. And Patrick is so fun all the time. He’s really the one that has a pretty complex job in this band, and he approaches it with a completely open heart and mind. He’s always willing to try new things and it is really cool to be a part of that process together.”
The album also contains three covers, “Jerusalem Ridge” (a Bill Monroe tune with a twist that has become a staple at live shows), “Avril 14th’ (a piece by Richard James a.k.a. Aphex Twin), and “Birdland Breakdown” (a tune by mandolinist John Reischman which also appeared on Tony Rice’s jazz-grass album Still Inside).