Jazz funk is a term which seems like it should be very specific, yet instead is applied to such a diverse swathe of musicians as to render it useless. Is it funky jazz? Is it jazzy funk? In certain circumstances, it can refer to the Meters, just as well as it could to certain compositions by Funkadelic, and then there’s something like Stone Alliance, which falls somewhere in the middle.
The cover of the repress of their 1976 debut, out now from Tidal Waves Music, mentions “jazz, Afro-Cuban, rock, and pop,” but it’s definitely a mark of the time that funk doesn’t make an appearance in the original description. That said, there’s definitely something funky going on here. Steve Grossman’s sax work is decidedly skronky and out there, while Don Alias’ percussion is wild and supremely on the Afro-Cuban tip, but Gene Perla’s bass work is what makes this funky.
Alias and Grossman go out there — and Perla does, too — but his low end lends the music a bed and a groove that keeps Stone Alliance from getting too flighty. Listening to the song which ends side A, “Duet,” featuring Grossman and Alias in a sax and drum duet, really drives that point home. They’re nicely playing off one another, but the collaboration feels overly-lengthy at five and a half minutes. The pair find a nice pocket after a little while, but it lacks solidity.
Flip the record to side B, and there’s the often-sampled “Sweetie-Pie,” and it drops into such lockstep perfection that one wonders if it were now a totally different trio. The stop-start aesthetic even lets Stone Alliance work through a variety of tempos, and it kills. The cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’” is justifiably called “hip” on the obi strip, and Perla’s piano work compliments Grossman’s sax in a manner not explored elsewhere on the self-titled.
While it’s not particularly funky in a direct way at its outset, Stone Alliance finds the groove and locks into it so well that there’s no more perfect appellation for the trio than jazz funk.
The record sounds great. Given that it’s been out of print since the ‘70s, it’s one I’d heard of, but never actually heard myself until it showed up in the mail. It’s wonderfully balanced, and will rock your world if you give it a little volume, although it’s equally as impressive on headphones.
The artwork is a reproduction of the original 1976 release, with the Tidal Waves Music logo replacing that of P.M. Records. They’ve also added an obi strip to hype the record and place it in some historical context, such as the sampling of “Sweetie-Pie” by Original Flavor in the ‘90s. It also promotes the label’s other work featuring Grossman, including his album Some Shapes to Come.
“Stone Alliance” is available on vinyl from Light in the Attic.