Dmitri Matheny Starlight Cafe
CD Review by Thomas Conrad
Dmitri Matheny, flugelhorn; Darrell Grant, Piano; Bill Douglass, bass
Monarch MR1018 (CD). 1998. Dmitri Matheny, prod.; Brian Walker, eng. TT: 59:08
Performance 4-1/2 stars (out of 5)
Sonics 4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
What good are record reviewers if you can’t count on them for the occasional hot tip? Stay with me. I’m about to deliver.
In jazz, “pretty” is almost never a compliment. Jazz should slap you awake or validate your soul stirrings or break your heart or take you to the promised land, or all of the above at once. “Pretty” doesn’t get you there. Starlight Cafe is therefore a rarity: a jazz recording that is extravagantly, un-ashamedly, irrestibly pretty, and that takes enough risks to qualify as jazz.
Never heard of Dmitri Matheny? Neither had I. With that name, you figure he’s from some place east of St. Petersburg. Turns out it’s Tucson. Like every jazz musician worthy of the name, Dmitri Matheny hears something all his own. For Starlight Cafe, he hears a gathering of nocturnes that find a rapt late-night moodspace and stay there. He plays evanescent songs that beautifully fit his intention, like “Stardust” and “Corcovado” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.” But even when he varies the tone with more extroverted originals like “Geneva,” he does not break the atmosphere. One reason is his instrumental sound: lambent, poignant with human breath, a spirit voice that compels attention even when it whispers. Another reason is his drummerless ensemble. Pianist Darrell Grant and bassist Bill Douglass are intense listeners who sometimes anticipate and instantly echo Matheny’s spontaneous ideas, and sometimes string counterlines in his path. The three are always weaving one fabric.
In jazz, the phrase “mood music,” like “pretty,” is almost always pejorative. But Starlight Cafe is mood music you can trust. Its reassuring affirmations are honest, earned, and unsentimental, and the spell it evokes is inseparable from its recorded sound. Only very special live recordings can fool you into thinking they were made in a studio, right up until the moment the applause breaks in. Starlight Cafe was recorded live at La Note Cafe in Berkeley, California by Brian Walker, and it provides the best of both worlds: the finely nuanced ensemble close-up usually achievable only in a studio, and the full-size ambient space of a real moment in time.
Dmitri Matheny. Starlight Cafe. Now you know.
Dmitri Matheny: Starlight Cafe (November 1, 1998)
Already tabbed a "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" in the 1998 DownBeat Critics' Poll, flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny seems on the verge of establishing himself as a major new jazz star. His third release on San Francisco's Monarch label may just put him over the top.
Conceived as a "collection of nocturnes," Starlight Cafe is a quiet, hauntingly beautiful album of ballads and standards (including "Stardust," "Corcovado," "When You Wish Upon a Star," and Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low") plus several of Matheny's similarly themed originals. The 34-year-old Nashville native, now a stalwart on the Bay Area jazz scene, is a velvety smooth player who favors the lyrical and poetic side of jazz over the fire and brimstone side championed by many of his contemporaries. His tone and overall approach bear the strong influence of his mentor, the impeccable "flumpet" player Art Farmer. His ballad playing also recalls that of another master of California romanticism, Chet Baker.
The album was recorded live in Berkeley with a drummer-less trio featuring the fine pianist Darrell Grant (ex-Betty Carter, Frank Morgan, Tony Williams) and bassist Bill Douglass (Mario McPartland's West Coast partner). Matheny and his talented cohorts have made a highly enjoyable album of late-night jazz that proves you don't need to make a lot of noise to make a strong impression.
All About Jazz
Dmitri Matheny: Starlight Cafe (November 1, 1998)
Recorded live at La Note Café and Restaurant Provencal in Berkeley, California earlier this year, Dmitri Matheny’s third album offers ballad material suitable for framing and displaying in the living room where you’ll be able to revisit it every day when you come home from a hard day’s work. The trio’s members form a cohesive seamless unit made up of equal parts soulful expression, caressing phrases, imaginative asides, and dedicated lyricism.
Matheny, who will turn 33 on Christmas Day, was born in Nashville and spent his early childhood there. By the time he started learning to play the trumpet his family moved to Tucson, Arizona and the artist’s love for wide-open spaces became embedded in his music. A return to the big city and to the Berklee College of Music in Boston seems to have influenced his compositions as well.
Marian McPartland’s "Twilight World" fuses a subtle Latin rhythm with relaxed flugelhorn and piano musings. Matheny employs an original technique whereby he tapers the end of a centerpiece phrase with a gentle steady stream of air – without tone. It’s as if one were conversing and using a gentle sigh for effect. Matheny’s bop-derived "Geneva" and his happy up-tempo Jamaican romp "Soca Nova" provide a few lively highlights; the audience especially loved Grant’s Monkish piano solo spot on "Geneva."
A sensitive and expressive new voice on today’s jazz scene, Dmitri Matheny is preaching smooth sounds without losing sight of the quality in music. Recommended.
It's unusual that such a wondrous jazz moment gets caught on tape. But that's the story behind the captivating Starlight Café, CD number three by rising star flugelhornist-composer bandleader Dmitri Matheny. Working with his remarkable trio of pianist Darrell Grant and bassist Bill Douglass, Matheny embarks on an exquisite ride through the cosmos, romancing and musing on his horn with balladic delicacy and gorgeous ebullience. This is dimmer-switch and candlelight music, best savored when the lights are low. Rich with improvisation and played to perfection, Starlight Café gleams with rapturous jazz radiance.
National Public Radio
This is music to touch your heart. A twilight mood for lovers of leisurely paced music. Dmitri Matheny's warm pellucid sound truly encapsulates the essence of jazz.
One of the ten best jazz CDs of the year: Recorded live in Berkeley, Starlight Café is an exquisite, soft-spoken album of standards and originals, ideal for quiet nights. In the company of bassist Bill Douglass and pianist Darrell Grant, Matheny savors a relaxed, reflective mood through a handful of nocturnes and standards. Matheny's velvety horn glides effortlessly above the sympathetic, sparse accompaniment of Douglass and Grant, weaving a spellbinding tapestry of sounds."
JAM Magazine | Jazz Beat Forum | 52nd Street Jazz
On this, his third CD as a leader, Dmitri Matheny displays the kind of flugelhorn sound that has inspired this Metheny to start spending an extra hour each day in the woodshed. It's as gorgeous and soulful as a sumptuous full moon on a breezy summer night. And that's not to mention a level of technique and fluidity that will probably end up adding another hour to this admirer's new regimen.
It's also fun to try to spot the influences. Because Starlight Café is mostly an evocative, late night session with drummerless accompaniment, Dmitri's lyrical side is almost always the center of attention.
When it is, Jack Sheldon immediately comes to mind. But there's also a dash of Chet, a little Bobby Shew, and some Tom Harrell. It's an amalgam that makes for a single new and refreshing voice.
The fare on Starlight Café is a straight ahead assortment of originals and recognizable standards ("Corcovado," "Stardust," "When Lights Are Low"), all of which are played with great lyricism and group empathy.
In pianist Darrell Grant and bassist Bill Douglass, Dmitri Matheny has found the perfect backup for this kind of date; after all, playing a whole gig without a drummer takes a special kind of musicianship. This threesome pulls it off brilliantly.
This is excellent music from three very talented artists. And it offers additional proof that, at 33, Dmitri Matheny is clearly poised to become one of the jazz world's next important trumpet/flugelhorn players. A big thumbs up from this distant cousin in Kansas City."
When I was a kid and knew absolutely nothing about jazz, I was often struck by the melancholy sound of the flugelhorn, usually as background music in films. I searched and searched for a record to fit those melancholy moods, something with that distinctive, sad sound, but all to no avail. And while I discovered a lot of great jazz in the process, I didn't discover that dark, late-night record that would elevate my mood to something filmic.
I've finally found it: Dmitri Matheny's Starlight Café. This is the album I've spent a lifetime looking for. Playing flugelhorn exclusively -- a first cousin to the trumpet, but with a mellower tone -- Matheny is backed by Darrell Grant on piano and Bill Douglass on bass.
Their sound I can only describe, in the best sense of the word, as pretty. Don't get me wrong: nothing offends my musical sensibilities more than light jazz (or smooth jazz, if you prefer). But this is no light jazz; this is real jazz imbued with an increasingly rare beauty.
Matheny has almost unanimously wowed critics, counting amongst his recent accolades being named one of four Best New Artists in the JazzIz Magazine Readers Poll, and Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in the Down Beat International Critics Poll."
—Stephen Seigel, Tucson Weekly
North Beach Now
Starlight Café is a real winner. Matheny mixes soulful, torchy ballads with inventive uptempo numbers with deft ease.
A fine new CD, Starlight Café affirms Matheny's atavistic standing as a romantic and as a brass player who can limn slow motion ballads without referencing Miles.
LA Jazz Scene
"Soca Nova," from Matheny's album Starlight Café, invited fours between piano and flugelhorn, as the trio presented the tune via a happy calypso arrangement. Throughout the CD, the leader offered glimpses of his unique style as he employed a personal touch through adaptations such as half-valve growls and playing directly into the piano strings for a faraway sound.
Contra Costa Times
"The music on Starlight Café, Matheny's live disc, is splendid—familiar standards such as "Stardust," "When Lights Are Low," Jobim's tropical "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)," and a few originals—is lush, seductive and dreamy. The album also continues Matheny's unabashed passions for all things celestial."
Contra Costa Times
Dmitri Matheny's third album, Starlight Café, is a ravishingly beautiful session with bass master Bill Douglass and the superb young pianist Darrell Grant.
—Andrew Gilbert, Contra Costa Times
Listen to Starlight Café, and it will sound seductively familiar, like you've been listening to his ebony tones and molasses rhythms all your life. These are loose and easy tunes, liquid silky, and yet Matheny' s improvisations—with Darrell Grant on piano and Bill Douglass on bass—still press the limits of standards like "Stardust" and "When You Wish Upon a Star." His third album is an intimate confection imbued with a warm delicacy, mellow lyricism and lazy elegance.
Dmitri Matheny hardly plays an unpretty note on his flugelhorn throughout Starlight Café. Matheny essays ballads and mid-tempo pieces with a winning, natural lyricism...unquestionably a master."
One of the jazz world’s most talented horn players, he is a rarity in the music world: a rising star free of ego and hubris. Matheny’s mild mannered appearance belies the smoldering passion that oozes from his horn. His recent CD, Starlight Café shows off Matheny’s prodigiously versatile talent and promises that the jazz scene is well-stocked for the future.