3-1/2 Stars (out of 4) — With resonant, soft-toned flugelhorn lines, Matheny casts a silvery blue glow over his radiant sophomore CD conceptually linked by a lunar theme. He and his group (featuring rising-star tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis) swing into a luminous version of Lee Morgan’s “Desert Moonlight” and render Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” with exquisite beauty. The strongest tracks are Matheny originals like the alluring moonscape trilogy, the show-stopping title number and the spry finale, “Moon Rocks (Keepnews Blues),” which briefly alludes to Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and pays homage to album producer Orrin Keepnews.
If the lushness and purity of the leader's flugelhorn tone were the only outstanding qualities of Dmitri Matheny's sophomore CD, that would be enough to recommend Penumbra as one of the most gorgeous mainstream jazz recordings of the year. The smooth, luminous sound and gentle tempos executed by Matheny and friends might give a deceptive "dinner jazz" gloss to the session, but a delicate harmonic complexity shapes Matheny's fine original music. Although he eloquently covers Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" and quotes Van Morrison's "Moondance" in the swinging tribute to legendary producer Orrin Keepnews, Matheny makes no facile pop or "new jazz" moves that would eclipse the fundamental beauty and understated lunacy of his vision.
—Derk Richardson, San Francisco Bay Guardian
A noted composer who has received many commissions. Matheny is one of the most lyrical and creative musicians on the jazz scene. His latest recording, Penumbra, is a ravishingly beautiful album of standards, pop tunes and his own finely crafted pieces, all linked by the lunar theme.
—Andrew Gilbert, Contra Costa Times
With veteran jazz producer Orrin Keepnews at the boards, it is no surprise that the production values are crystalline. Even on tape you can discern every sweep of the drummer's brush, every step the bass takes as it escorts a tune to its conclusion.
Flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny and Dave Ellis are tight. The complement each other well, offering harmony, color, and tonal variety. With a theme album that refers to the majestic beauty of the Moon, the flugelhornist offers a set of beautiful, interesting pieces...a set that demonstrates well the variety and sensitivity evoked by the composer and performers. Recommended.
—Jim Santella, LA Jazz Scene
On this album, Matheny draws lyrical inspiration from tunes with the word "moon" in the title. The fluegelhorn player is a glowing alternative to today's fiery, chops-parading brassmen. Fronting a quintet, he evokes qualities named in his "Moon Song Trinity": "Sea of Tranquillity," "Sea of Serenity" and "Sea of Fertility." But do not mistake him for a purveyor of "soft jazz" or "New Age" music. In his and the quintet's playing, he demonstrates a firm jazz perspective that incorporates lyrical predecessors such as Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, Chet Baker, Kenny Wheeler and Tom Harrell. The group-tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis, guitarist John Heller, bassist Bill Douglas and drummer Kenny Wollensen-plays thoughtfully and empathetically, with a spare rather than busy solo approach. Tunes include Harrell's "Moon Alley," Lee Morgan's "Desert Moonlight," Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" and others. Veteran record executive Orrin Keepnews produced the session.
—Owen Cordle, JazzTimes Magazine (September 1997)
The subdued sonority of the Wallace Stevens poem in the liner notes is a reflection of Matheny's similar qualities—understated, understanding, assured and explicative elegance. Legendary producer Orrin Keepnews lends decades of expertise to this fine album. The title song is especially beautiful. Penumbra offers innovation, maturity of style, an ensemble sensibility, a deference to influences, wit, controlled and masterful technique and evident joy.
—Bill Donaldson, Jazz News
There is no faulting the quality of their playing. Matheny's compositions and arrangements exploit this group with a loving concern for fine detail. The music ranges from boppish blues to a surprisingly vigorous 3/4 romp through "Moonlight in Vermont," from Tom Harrell's "Moon Alley" to "Autumn Moon," a traditional Chinese melody. A substantial number of the new jazz albums released every week are locked into repetitive sequences that move predictably from written theme to improvised variations. So it is a particular pleasure to hear an outing that mixes solid straight-ahead blowing with thoughtful composition and a subtle understanding of the crucial musical balance between sound and silences.
—Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times
The Dmitri Matheny Group is back with Penumbra, featuring a host of music inspired by the shimmering disk we call the Moon. Broad, airy and a little mysterious, the Matheny sound is complemented well by this celestial theme. Matheny's is a sound that won't be overshadowed.
—Benny Villalobos, Albuquerque Alibi
Dmitri Matheny's second release, Penumbra, is an exquisitely rendered, moody and reflective suite of music based around musical moon themes."
—Wayne Saroyan, Oakland Tribune