Friday, May 8, 2009

Matt Ulery's internal soundtracks

Posted By on 05.08.09 at 02:27 PM

Local bassist Matt Ulery clearly puts a lot of disciplined thought into his compositions. While many jazz players see tunes as little more than vessels for improvisation, he's interested in pieces that can stand on their own. His fine group Loom, which plays Wednesdays at the Whistler, does a terrific job extrapolating from his elaborate themes, integrating the composed material into its improvisations in a way that never feels perfunctory.

This Sunday night at 7 PM at Heaven Gallery, Ulery is celebrating the release of his new album Themes and Scenes (Woolgathering). He won't be performing live--the event is simply a listening party. Before I listened to the new album I was puzzled by this choice, since jazz is all about live performance.

But Themes and Scenes isn't really a jazz recording, though the music certainly borrows from jazz's vocabulary. Discussing his appreciation for film scores, Ulery writes of the new album, "[It's] a collection of suggestive pieces composed for chamber orchestras of various instrumentation that I connect with my own thoughts, emotions, and tales." In other words, the tunes are soundtracks to imagined movies. Each of the six pieces feature different lineups of musicians in the bassist's orbit--trumpeter Thad Franklin, violinist Zach Brock, keyboardist Rob Clearfield--and Ulery plays keyboards more often than bass.

The pieces are by and large episodic, and they chart their own narratives. In fact, so much happens in each one that it's hard to imagine how they'd actually function in a film--perhaps a short film, with lots of scene changes? That isn't to say that Ulery's music is impatient or uses rapid cutting, but it does feel more self-contained than most conventional soundtrack work. There's a strong eastern European flavor in many of the melodies, and despite the fact that no track features more than six players, meticulous overdubbing gives the music a somewhat orchestral feel. The concision of the arrangements, on the other hand, suggests that the succinctness of rock has influenced Ulery's aesthetic. If I have one complaint, it's that the tone rarely strays far from moody and contemplative--but maybe Ulery is a moody, contemplative guy.

Today's playlist:

Kassin, Michiko e Hatchin Sound Track, Chapters 1 & 2 (Speedstar, Japan)
Various artists, The Sound of Wonder! (Finders Keepers)
Franz Ferdinand, Tonight (Domino)
Shujaat Khan and Sandeep Das, Virasat (Sense World Music)
Rail Band, Dioba (Sterns)

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