Malcolm X Abram: Rick Stone to have homecoming concert at Nighttown

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Cleveland bred, New York based jazz guitarist Rick Stone will perform two homecoming sets with a trio on Sunday at Nighttown. (Chris Drukker)

Rick Stone, one of Cleveland’s many talented jazz exports, will return to his old stomping grounds for a one-night, two-set homecoming concert at Nighttown on Sunday.

Stone grew up in Cleveland and picked up the guitar at age 9 in the hopes of becoming a pre-teen bluesman before becoming entranced with jazz in the 1970s after seeing hard-bop saxophonist Sonny Stitt at the Smiling Dog Saloon.

He studied at Cuyahoga Community College, moved on to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and then followed the path of many aspiring jazz lifers by moving to New York where he was able to learn from and sit in with luminaries such as saxophonist Jimmy Heath, guitarist Ted Dunbar, trumpet legend Donald Byrd and others.

Stone, who released his fifth album Fractals in 2011, has a dark, trebly tone and favors lengthy single lead lines that snake around the melody and groove. He will be performing in a trio format with area stalwarts bassist Ashley Summers and drummer Ron Godale. With no chord instrument in the rhythm section, there’ll be plenty of room for all of the soloists to stretch out over Stone’s mix of standards and his own straight-bop originals.

You can go back again

It was fun seeing Houseguest reunited for one night at Musica in Akron on Saturday for Square Records’ 10th anniversary. It also seemed that I saw just about every person and musician I met in my first few years in Akron.

I arrived at the very crowded venue just as the opener — power-trio Ultrasphinx — was starting its very loud set. I went immediately to the bar, and if you’ve ever experienced a show at Musica, you likely know that if you’re not planted somewhere in front of the stage where the sound is at its most even, the mix can get pretty weird.

But I can say from that sonic vantage point that drummer Ian Cummins is fierce on the trap set.

Though Ultrasphinx has only released a few professionally recorded songs on a 7-inch including its surefire hit, the catchy Stoned Hearts, it apparently has as many prog- and punk-spiced, indie-rockin’ instrumentals as tunes laced with singer/guitarist’s Joe Dennis high tenor vocals and unique angular sense of melody.

Next up was Trouble Books, the cute-as-a-button couple of Keith Freund and Linda Lejsovka, who did a short set of their quiet, patient, ambient, ethereal loop-heavy pieces, featuring their boy/girl vocals and harmonies, providing quite the jarring juxtaposition following Ultrasphinx’s eardrum-poking set.

Then Houseguest — the stars of the evening — took the stage for an energized, entertaining and reasonably sober run through its cavalcade of (local) hits such as the poppy Fashionable Living Room, Dive Deep and the bouncy Galapaghost Island.

And of course the show ended with about a dozen increasingly random sing-along versions of the 90-second, punky, fan-favorite The Captain’s Things.

During the band’s initial run, I often chided it for its propensity to rush through its set. But after a few songs Saturday night, I was quickly reminded that one reason was to curb singer Ted Mallison’s mostly entertaining, but seemingly endless between-song ramblings aimed at the many friends who show up for the band’s shows.

It was a good, fun night from start to finish and Houseguest was still quite tight for a bunch of guys who hadn’t had much time to rehearse their deceptively complex multipart tunes and who had a member (guitarist Dave Whited) who flew in from San Francisco a few short days before the show.

Perhaps even awesomer (yes, I declare that to be a real word) was that the whole shindig raised more than $3,000 for the guest of honor, Dan Van Auken who is fighting the good fight against brain cancer.

Van Auken, who chose a fine set list for the group, was also the first one (and thankfully, one of the few ... we’re all a bit doughier, aren’t we?) to take off his shirt, in the traditional Houseguest encore mode.

I’m sorry, so sorry

I have one quick mea culpa from last week’s preview of the big event. Early in their entrepreneurial endeavor, Square Records owners David Ignizio and Juniper Sage received plenty of good advice from Charles Abou-Chebl at My Mind’s Eye record store in Lakewood. I only mentioned Music Saves records in Cleveland last week.

Sorry, Charlie. (Yeah, that’s an ancient pop-culture reference.)

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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