Dmitri Matheny Penumbra
CD Review by Don Heckman
Saturday, August 10, 1998
The names involved in this collection of lunar-oriented music from a San Francisco-based band—with the exception of flugelhornist Matheny and tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis—may not be particularly familiar.
But there is no faulting the quality of their playing. The additional instrumentation of John Heller's guitar, Bill Douglass' bass and Kenny Wollesen's drums (with Rob Burger's accordion added on Matheny's poignant "Sea of Tranquillity") makes for an unusually mellow sound. And Matheny's compositions and arrangements exploit its potential with a loving concern for fine detail.
The music ranges from boppish blues to a suprisingly vigorous 3/4 romp through the old ballad standard "Moonlight in Vermont," from Tom Harrell's floating "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 sounds and silences.