SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
Inspired By The Dark: Dmitri Matheny
By Andrew Gilbert
July 21, 2005
Protégé of the late Art Farmer, flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny works along the edge between chamber music and jazz, creating a musical landscape found when lights are low.
Matheny travels to a very dark place on his new album.
Not in the emotional sense, though the lyricism of his horn work is often achingly poignant.
Rather, for his performance at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, which concludes the La Jolla summer jazz series, the Berkeley-based musician is focusing on music from Nocturne (Papillon Recordings), a journey into the landscape that emerges between sundown and dawn.
"Jazz by it's very nature is music of the night," Matheny said, "and a lot of my music is inspired by these nighttime moods, dreamy and sensual, melancholy but not sad."
Protégé of the late trumpet great Art Farmer, Matheny has carved out a singular niche as a player and composer by honing a chamber jazz aesthetic, a sensibility open to far-flung influences and instruments. The music in Nocturne is recognizabjly jazz-based, but he incorporates ethereal elements, such as harp and shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, and traces of a Japanese folk melody.
More obviously, Matheny draws on the European classical tradition of night-inspired musical settings, from Mozart and Schumann to Chopin and Debussy. He leaves room for the musicians to solo, but the pieces are mostly composed, with themes that develop, disappear, and then resurface with variations. Starting with "Twilight," the album moves through a 12-movement cycle that concludes with the gentle "Awakening."
"At night, we're away from our daytime fixed identities, and we encounter this emotionally rich world of romance, eroticism and spirituality," Matheny said. "The blues is definitely part of that world, so there are moments that are funky, but others are atmospheric, a time when the subconscious is unleashed."
The album's instrumentation also includes a string quartet, and Matheny describes Nocturne as the realization of his horn-with-strings fantasy, a jazz tradition exemplified on classic recordings by Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Stan Getz and Marian McPartland. For tonight's concert, Matheny won't have strings at his disposal, but he is performing with the all-star Bay Area ensemble featured throughout Nocturne.
The pianoless quintet includes alto and soprano saxophonist Charles McNeal, a deeply soulful player with a pleasingly tart tone, and guitarist Brad Buethe, whose acclaimed album Side Step features tenor sax star Joe Lovano. Deszon X. Claiborne is one of Northern California's busiest drummers, in demand for blues, funk and jazz gigs. And bassist Ruth Davies is a blues master who spent years touring and recording with the pioneering R&B crooner Charles Brown.
"Ruth's known as a blues player and a groove player, and she's one of the few bassists around who always plays the root," Matheny said. "When the music gets free, you can always count on her to keep it grounded. She carries the band."
With its intricate arrangements, Nocturne sounds unlike any of Matheny's previous recordings, but there are recurring themes in his music. He last performed at the Athenaeum in the summer of 2001 with the pianist Darrell Grant, shortly after the release of their live session, Starlight Café. That album built on the celestial feel of his 1997 Orrin Keepnews-produced CD Penumbra: The Moon Sessions, which featured Tin Hat Trio's Rob Burger, Sex Mob drummer Kenny Wolleson, tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis and bassist Bill Douglass, a longtime member of Marian McPartland's trio.
"One of the things I've tried to do is have a color instrument on each recording that you don't expect, or a style that takes things into a different area," Matheny said. "On Starlight Café we did this tune 'Whisper, Muse' that's based on a Gabriel Fauré piece. On Penumbra we have a tango with Rob Burger playing accordion, and another piece, 'Autumn Moon,' features Bill Douglass playing a traditional Chinese melody on Chinese flute."
With Nocturne, Matheny has come down to earth, but he's still exploring mysterious places in the dark.
Nocturne is a haunting meditation on the beauty of the night.
JAZZ NU MAGAZINE
Dmitri Matheny's Nocturne
Dmitri Matheny, the acclaimed jazz flugelhornist and composer, has been recording for over a decade, but Nocturne, his latest release on the Papillon Recordings label, outdoes them all.
Here, Matheny reveals his passion for the night and takes the listener to a place of serene contemplation. With its romantic yet innocent melodies, rich orchestral harmonies, and the heartbreakingly lyrical sound of Matheny's flugelhorn, this album is surely his greatest musical achievement to date.
Matheny takes a wonderfully subdued approach to his enchanting collection of melancholy originals, whose subtle, intimate qualities may surprise those of his fans who best know his more lively and popular concert fare. More than simply expressing romantic love, Matheny has created a mysterious and compelling world where songs that touch the heart combine with the atmospheric texture of violins to provide an escape from life's ups-and-downs and allow us to re-connect with our true spirit.
Nocturne is a winner.